Associate Education Minister Dr Pita Sharples has renewed his call for New Zealand history to be taught in all schools, saying a knowledge of history is essential to effective and inclusive education.
In a speech to the Teacher Education Forum of Aotearoa New Zealand in Palmerston North, Dr Sharples suggested that Māori children were not achieving well in education because teachers, along with other New Zealanders, are not familiar with the history and traditions that make Māori students who they are today.
Dr Sharples asked how many teachers in mainstream schools would know, for example, that a Māori student was going to an unveiling the next day – and what that entails. Or that a girl in their class has her own cemetery where her grandmother and ancestors are buried, that she visits regularly at Cape Runaway. Or that another girl in their class is crazy about her waka Mataatua, and is learning about her Tuhoe traditions.
“These are the things that Māori kids carry today, with or without Māori language, and they are not known, let alone acknowledged, in the classroom or in the community,” he said.
He said that familiarity with Māori culture explained the successes of kura kaupapa Māori established by Māori whānau and communities.
“We created, we thought, something that might help save Māori language; but what we created was a user-friendly school for Māori children,” he said.
“Validating the person is absolutely vital if you want the child to succeed, in the community, in the school and anywhere else. But how can you do that if you don’t know the history. Where is Māori history (in schools)? History teachers agree with me, but I don’t see any change in the curriculum.”
Dr Sharples noted that the history of Aotearoa didn’t start with Captain Cook, but that place names and tribal history and customs, maintained over a thousand years in this land, linked Māori back to a prior homeland.
“Is it possible in a mainstream school to recognise those things and provide for that comfort and safety and protective identity for those children so they can just be, and learn, instead of being fearful of being different and not ‘right’?” he asked.
Dr Sharples strongly endorsed programmes to support teachers’ cultural competency, such as Tataiako and Kotahitanga, which make teaching and learning more effective by strengthening the relationship between the teacher and school on one hand, and the student, their whānau and the community on the other.
“I want Tataiako to be compulsory. I think there’s real possibilities there, and I look forward to your acceptance that Tataiako should be part of every school,” he said.