There seems to be a consensus across the political spectrum about the need for schools to actively teach the Treaty of Waitangi in the context of New Zealand history, but with caveats.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, National leader Simon Bridges and Hobson's Pledge spokesman Don Brash all supported education on the Treaty of Waitangi for New Zealand children.

Bridges said it would need to be "fair and balanced."

Brash said pre-1840 history including deadly inter-tribal warfare should also be included in the history lessons.


And Ardern indicated a willingness to try to find out just how much history is actually being taught at present.

They were commenting at Waitangi on a petition
that has been launched by the New Zealand History Teachers' Association calling on Parliament to pass a law to require "the coherent teaching of our own past across appropriate year levels in our schools, with professional development and resources to do so provided."

Chairman Graeme Ball said no one knew with precision how much colonial history was being taught because there was no requirement in the school curriculum to teach New Zealand's past.

There was only one achievement objective in the whole curriculum – level five in the social sciences learning area – that specifically focused on New Zealand's shared past, and it was not compulsory.

Ardern said she had been taught about New Zealand's colonial history in school and she believed there was a public expectation that it was being taught in schools.

Commenting on the petition, she said she hoped there would be conversation about the teaching of New Zealand history.

"There is at the moment that flexibility of schools to determine elements of the curriculum.

Children during the powhiri on the Waitangi Treaty grounds today welcoming MPs and dignitaries ahead of Waitangi Day celebrations. Photo / Michael Craig
Children during the powhiri on the Waitangi Treaty grounds today welcoming MPs and dignitaries ahead of Waitangi Day celebrations. Photo / Michael Craig

"Maybe let's look at how widely it is being taught because we should know our own history."


Bridges said New Zealand children should be taught New Zealand history, including the Treaty of Waitangi, "in a fair and balanced" way.

"Obviously it can't simply be a view of Don Brash or one the other side it the view of a Māori radical. It needs to be something that is factual but that teaches New Zealand children our history including the founding role of the Treaty of Waitangi.
"We want to make sure Kiwi kids understand our history."

Brash told reporters there was merit in learning more about New Zealand history "but I don't want our history to be taught in a biased way."

"My worry is that if we focus only on post 1840 history we'll ignore the fact that there were some awful things done by Māori tribes to other Māori tribes.

"Let's face the whole history. I'm in favour of doing that."

He said the number of people killed in the Land Wars on both sides was "quite minor compared with pre-1840 inter-tribal war."

Graeme Ball said it was bizarre as New Zealand moved into the post-settlement era, so few New Zealanders knew the story of the Crown's past actions that led eventually to the Waitangi Tribunal.

However the History Teachers' Association and historians would view any sort of mandated national story "with horror – opting instead for the presenting of multiple views – including those of iwi – along with the teaching of the relevant historical skills with which to analyse and evaluate them."

"Nor should there be any trace of 'blame' in the present for events of the past. This too would be an unhistorical and unproductive approach."