Within the next three years, New Zealand history will be taught in all schools and kura, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this morning.

The Prime Minister said changes would be made to the national curriculum so New Zealand history was taught in primary and secondary schools.

The changes would cover the entire breadth of the curriculum, including NCEA.

History lessons are expected to include the arrival of Māori, early colonisation, the Treaty of Waitangi, immigration to New Zealand, and the evolving identity of the country.

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Aotearoa's involvement in the Pacific will also be covered.

Currently, under the curriculum, schools can choose how New Zealand history is covered, meaning there's variation in how it's taught, leaving much to chance what students learn.

"This Government is committed to a better New Zealand that we can all be proud of and which recognises the value of every New Zealander," Ardern said.

She said the Government had listened to growing calls from New Zealanders to know more about their own history and identity.

"With this in mind, it makes sense for the national curriculum to make clear the expectation that our history is part of the local curriculum and marau ā kura in every school and kura.

"The curriculum changes we are making will reset a national framework so all learners and ākonga are aware of key aspects of New Zealand history and how they have influenced and shaped the nation."

The reset is expected to include:

- The arrival of Māori

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- First encounters and early colonial history

- Te Tiriti o Waitangi / Treaty of Waitangi and its history

- Colonisation of, and immigration to, New Zealand, including the New Zealand Wars.

- Evolving national identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

- New Zealand's role in the Pacific

- New Zealand in the late 20th century and evolution of a national identity with cultural plurality.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Ministry of Education would work with historical and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, students and ākonga, parents and whānau, and other groups with a strong interest in shaping how New Zealand history is taught.

"Once the updates to the curriculum are known, existing supports will be reviewed and an implementation package with teaching and learning resources will be developed ready for the 2022 school year."

The curriculum changes will come into effect in 2022. They will be gazetted during 2020 in order to give schools and kura time to prepare to implement them.

The initial work would be funded through Ministry of Education baselines, meaning there would be no additional funding required at this stage.

No other parts of the curriculum would be altered through the change.

Local historians have long lamented what has been a lack of education about our past. James Cowan, as early as the 1930s, questioned why the country was teaching English history rather than its own.

In June, the New Zealand History Teachers' Association spoke to a parliamentary select committee about similar concerns.

The association's chairman, Graeme Ball, says New Zealand finds itself in a unique position by not having some form of compulsory historical education, because of the flexibility with which schools could choose what to teach.

"It's hard to fathom why we have not thought our own history was not important enough for us," he said.

A lack of knowledge about colonial history meant many were left ignorant and often concerned and hostile towards issues such as Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

"It's perfectly understandable because they simply do not understand the background. That's not their fault. That's our fault as a country," Ball said.

The absence of requirements also means it's unclear how many people actually learn colonial history at all.

The association hasn't called for compulsory history, but in a petition raised it as a question, and Ball says any mandatory programmes would need to also come with training for teachers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said most New Zealanders would be surprised to hear local history wasn't being taught at schools. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said most New Zealanders would be surprised to hear local history wasn't being taught at schools. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Education and Workforce Committee reached a similar conclusion in reply.

"We consider that there is growing consensus around the country that New Zealand's early history should be taught in schools," it said.

"We acknowledge that, if teaching New Zealand history in schools were to be made compulsory, there would need to be ways to ensure it was taught properly."

Asked about whether New Zealand history needed to be taught more at schools, the Prime Minister earlier this week said there would be public expectation it would be part of the curriculum.

"I would be surprised if our schools were not teaching New Zealand history and I think when you say to New Zealanders and you ask them the question, they are surprised at the idea that wouldn't be taught at our schools," Ardern said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins last month said the Government was looking at the issue and would have more to say shortly. He declined to comment before the announcement.

RNZ, with additional reporting by Boris Jancic