The Treaty of Waitangi - dumped from a draft curriculum just months ago then reinstated after protest - is to become a guiding principle in the way New Zealand children are taught.
It will join reading and writing as core subjects, along with issues such as ecological sustainability and climate change.
They are key parts of a new curriculum launched yesterday in the first complete overhaul since its introduction in 1993.
The Treaty was not included in the draft earlier this year, but was written in after protests from the Maori Party, the Human Rights Commission and the Green Party.
It is now a central part. Schools will have to give pupils the opportunity to learn Maori language and customs and to learn about the Treaty.
Maori is one of three official languages, alongside English and New Zealand sign language.
Pupils will be taught how the Treaty is interpreted differently by some, and about the significance of Maori as tangata whenua.
The English curriculum will be mandatory for all state and state-integrated schools from 2010, and will be joined by a separate Maori curriculum, written in Maori, within a year.
The curriculum will focus on more independent learning and give schools and communities more say in teaching.
It will include core areas such as relationship building, participation and personal financial management, and will put more emphasis on learning a second language.
"This curriculum represents a shift away from focusing on knowing facts and figures to knowing also how to use knowledge effectively and apply it outside the classroom," said Prime Minister Helen Clark, who launched the document at Hutt Valley High School.
Teachers welcomed the document, but some questioned whether the changes would create a need for retraining and for more teachers, of whom there is already a shortage.
Others said more funding and resources would be needed before teachers could begin to teach the curriculum.
"Putting in place a review of their whole school curriculum is a major piece of work and cannot be done by osmosis," Irene Cooper, president of the New Zealand Educational Institute, said.
Education Minister Chris Carter said teachers would be given a professional development day to consider the curriculum.
New Zealand Principals Federation president Judy Hanna said the new curriculum was catching up to the way many schools already taught, particularly on issues such as climate change and the environment.
Traditional subjects remain intact, but will encompass topics featuring in the headlines, and not just in the textbooks.
Miss Clark said that, by including issues such as climate change, the curriculum had a "future focus". "It says our students have to be challenged, to be thinking about the big issues."
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