Overhaul history teaching, says Australian Prime Minister

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Prime Minister John Howard wants a coalition of the willing to overhaul the teaching of Australian history in the nation's schools. Mr. Howard said there was strong concern throughout the community about the way history was being taught, with a focus on themes rather than on when something happened and why.

Answering questions at the National Press Club, Mr Howard said it was ridiculous to believe history could be taught without knowing when something occurred, such as the Battle of Hastings or Captain Cook's sighting of the Australian east coast.

"What I want is a recognition that you cannot get people to understand the history of a country unless you have some kind of chronological narrative teaching of history," he said.

"I think there is a real case for a lot of people across the political divide to try and tackle this issue.

"I would like to enlist a coalition of the willing ... to bring about a change in attitudes."

Mr Howard said that while theme or issues teaching had a role, that did not overtake the need to know the dates of events.

"You can't learn history by teaching issues," he said.

"You can only learn and understand history by knowing what happened, why it happened and, of course, teaching of issues and influences is clearly part of that."

Mr Howard said understanding Australian history meant knowing more about indigenous history, the history of Britain and events through Europe.

He warned that some people would vigorously oppose changes to history teaching.

"I think it's something we need to enlist teachers in," he said.

"We're going to strike tremendous resistance from some of the education bureaucracies because they have been, some of them, responsible for entrenching this approach that I've condemned.

"I just think we have done very badly with this over the last few decades."

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