Pro­gramme too COOL for school

The Tribune (NZ) - - CONVERSATION -

‘‘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.

HAVE YOUR SAY

The Tri­bune wel­comes let­ters. They should not ex­ceed 250 words and must carry a gen­uine name, home ad­dress and day­time phone num­ber. Let­ters may be edited, abridged or omit­ted with­out ex­pla­na­tion. They can be emailed to tri­bune@msl.co.nz or posted to PO Box 3, Palmer­ston North to be re­ceived by 4pm on the Thurs­day prior to pub­li­ca­tion.

Matthew Dal­las, Chief News Di­rec­tor

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