Richard MacManus.

Marlborough Express - - TECHNOLOGY&SCIENCE -

Since the elec­tion is less than two weeks away, let’s take a close look at the tech­nol­ogy poli­cies of our main po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

I’ll cover dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy in ed­u­ca­tion and so­ci­ety in to­day’s col­umn, and ex­am­ine the im­pli­ca­tions for the econ­omy next week.

The Na­tional Party has made dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy in schools a big part of its elec­tion pitch. Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Nikki Kaye an­nounced a new school cur­ricu­lum at the end of June, and it has a heavy fo­cus on tech­nol­ogy. The draft cur­ricu­lum will make dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy a com­pul­sory sub­ject for years 1-10 in our schools, and comes with a $40 mil­lion in­vest­ment pack­age to help ‘‘up­skill teach­ers to de­liver the new cur­ricu­lum’’. It’s ex­pected to be im­ple­mented in Jan­uary 2018, in time for the new school year.

Na­tional has bandied around the term ‘‘com­pu­ta­tional think­ing’’ to de­scribe its ob­jec­tive. I’d ar­gue it’s more im­por­tant to teach our kids cre­ative think­ing, be­cause we’ll have ro­bots and AI to do the com­pu­ta­tional stuff. But over­all, this is a wor­thy ini­tia­tive.

The prob­lem, say the op­po­si­tion par­ties, is that there aren’t enough tech savvy teach­ers to go around.

At a re­cent Dig­i­tal Fu­ture Panel in Welling­ton, Labour’s ICT spokesper­son, Clare Cur­ran, ex­pressed con­cern about ‘‘the nar­row­ness in the cur­ricu­lum changes’’ and the teacher short­age.

She said there are around 4000 teach­ers cur­rently in New Zealand who can teach part of a dig­i­tal cur­ricu­lum, but it’s ‘‘nowhere near enough’’.

Gareth Hughes, the Greens’ ICT rep­re­sen­ta­tive, added that there are 62,000 kids through­out New Zealand who don’t have ac­cess to com­put­ers at home. So it’s not just tech­nol­ogy in schools that must be ad­dressed, he said.

An­other re­cent pol­icy an­nounce­ment from Na­tional was the es­tab­lish­ment of a dig­i­tal in­tern­ship and acad­emy pro­gramme, which it hopes will give work op­por­tu­ni­ties in ICT sim­i­lar to those pro­vided by trades acad­e­mies. Na­tional’s ICT spokesper­son Brett Hud­son said men­tor­ing is needed to help steer kids into IT ca­reers. I like the sound of this. Learn­ing a dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy job is of­ten very hand­son. My own ca­reer in dig­i­tal me­dia was built on the learn­ing-by-do­ing phi­los­o­phy of the web. I learned how to de­sign and pro­gram web­sites in my early ca­reer, by click­ing ‘‘view source’’ in a browser and then test­ing what worked for me. This ap­proach led to many ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Of course back then, I didn’t have any­one to men­tor me. The ad­van­tage of this era is that geeks of my gen­er­a­tion are avail­able to men­tor young­sters. You can learn more by watch­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced dig­i­tal pro­fes­sional, than by flip­ping through out-of-date aca­demic text­books.

A sim­i­lar case could be made about look­ing and learn­ing from those schools al­ready do­ing great things with dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy.

The Mana­iakalaniClus­ter is a group of mostly decile one schools in the Auck­land sub­urbs of Glen Innes, Pt Eng­land and Pan­mure, which has made a com­mit­ment to dig­i­tal learn­ing. Each stu­dent is pro­vided with a ChromeBook or iPad, and they have ac­cess to a va­ri­ety of dig­i­tal re­sources.

There is also a wire­less com­mu­nity mesh pro­vided to homes in that re­gion. So to Hughes’ point, the gift of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy isn’t re­stricted to school hours. The clus­ter is an ex­cel­lent ini­tia­tive, but it’s driven by the gen­eros­ity of an ed­u­ca­tion trust and not the govern­ment.

Cur­ran says the fact we haven’t been able to repli­cate the clus­ter’s pro­gramme around the coun­try is a fail­ure of govern­ment.

This leads to the ques­tion of


The draft cur­ricu­lum will make dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy a com­pul­sory sub­ject for years 1-10 in our schools.

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