Programme too COOL for school
‘‘Schooling helps prepare us for adult life, not just the eight-hours a day someone might spend in a cubicle.’’
It would have been something to be a fly on the wall when Education Minister Hekia Parata and her team came up with the acronym for its bold, futurefocused ‘Community of Online Learning’ proposal.
One wonders if they simply stumbled upon the convenient abbreviation - ‘‘OMG, it spells COOL’’ - and fell over themselves in high-five delirium.
Or perhaps the COOL came first, and it was all about finding the right words in the right order to fit the message that, you know, they were hip with the kids and what they were proposing didn’t seem like the origin story for a dystopian science-fiction movie.
Parata has signalled reforms encouraging school-aged children to do more or even all of their learning online. They would not do it through a school, or even need go to school. They would be linked into a community of online learning. Yes, COOL.
And that’s been the general temperature of the public and political reaction, people fearing the eroding role of teachers and the social benefits of the more traditional school environment.
In the Education Minister’s defence, part of her message had merit; technology has become increasingly important in employment and society generally and New Zealand’s education system needs to keep pace.
But Parata needed to hang her digital hopes on more than a desperate acronym and the observation that ‘‘we already have kids on iPads now’’, to pull the public’s visions away from pasty-skinned teens sitting in dark rooms entering code. And many of them are parents already overwhelmed by the level of technology in their children’s lives.
Though the devil will be in the details, Parata needed to in some way address where the teacher fits in and what their relationship with the student looks like in this COOL environment and, just as importantly, the interaction between learners. This is the important stuff.
As Massey University vicechancellor Steve Maharey observed: ‘‘Technology is merely a delivery mechanism. On its own it changes nothing’’.
Schooling helps prepare us for adult life, not just the eight-hours a day someone might spend in a cubicle, and Parata’s vision fails, at this point at least, to recognise that.
There is also the murky territory of where charter schools fit into the COOL framework.
There is the fear of it being less a community and more a corporation of online learning.
The long list of overseas examples of failed schools, faked attendance rates and corruption suggest these fears are wellfounded.
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Matthew Dallas, Chief News Director