The petition posted on the New Zealand Parliament website by Graeme Ball from the New Zealand History Teachers' Association is requesting the House of Representatives pass legislation that would make compulsory 'the coherent teaching’ of history in schools.
Attracting over 3600 signatures, the petition argues that ‘too few New Zealanders have a sound understanding of what brought the Crown and Māori together in the 1840 Treaty, or of how the relationship played out over the following decades’.
Further, the petition calls the teaching of history ‘a basic right of all to learn at school (primary and/or secondary) and that students should be exposed to multiple perspectives and be enabled to draw their own conclusions from the evidence presented in line with good historical practice’.
Ball, a history teacher of 20 years and the head of the Social Sciences Faculty at Northcote College in Auckland, argues that history is an important subject for students as it teaches them about the past and present, human experiences and gives them vital problem-solving skills.
“What we have in New Zealand is probably pretty unique in that there is no requirement to teach our own history to our young people coming through the school system. There are lots of fine words in the New Zealand curriculum [that] seem to suggest that’s what we should do, but there is nothing that actually specifically says it,” Ball says.
"[In] our relationship between the Crown and the Indigenous population we have [the] Treaty [of Waitangi]... which is still binding upon us today even though some people may not realise that, and that’s probably the root of the problem.
“There are lots of New Zealanders [that] don’t actually realise the significance of that document, don’t realise what happened in the years subsequent to the signing which involves wars, confiscation of land...
“...there is no requirement to look at the Treaty. So we’re pretty unique in that [from] the OECD countries… we’re the only country that does not require the compulsory teaching of its own past…," Ball says.
According to the Ministry of Education’s secondary school students enrolment data, in 2018 there were 31,016 secondary school students who were enrolled in history and only 2677 students enrolled in Māori studies.
“I don’t have it at my fingertips but I have heard that something like 20 per cent of the whole Year 11 cohort does history so that’s 80 per cent essentially who aren’t,” Ball says.
“I think for us if we're going to move forward, as a nation, as a bicultural nation it really is important for us all to have an understanding of what got us to the position we are [in] today.”