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.