The Education Minister’s announcement that digital technologies will finally be integrated into The New Zealand Curriculum has been welcomed by schools and the wider IT sector; however, many have expressed disappointment that the opportunity has been missed to make more robust and influential changes in this area.
Hekia Parata made the announcement at this year’s NZTech Advance Education Technology Summit in Auckland, heralding it as “the first change to The New Zealand Curriculum since its introduction in 2007”.
The change is an outcome of the Government’s Science in Society Strategic Plan A Nation of Curious Minds: He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara in which one of the key initiatives was to review the positioning and content of digital technology within The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. It is hoped to develop pathways to prepare students for careers in New Zealand’s fast-growing digital tech sector.
Lisa Rodgers, head of early learning and student achievement for the Ministry of Education, says they have taken the lead from other countries.
“We’re aware of recent changes to curriculum in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, and we will gather the most ambitious elements of international digital technologies curriculum design. Our aim is to maintain New Zealand’s position at the forefront of curriculum design.”
The changes build upon the introduction of digital technologies at NCEA Levels 1 to 3 in 2010, expanding Digital Technologies in the curriculum from senior secondary right down to year 1, ensuring that every child, in every school from years 1 to 10 will be exposed to a comprehensive digital technologies programme. Schools can and do teach digital technologies at all levels already; however, it isn’t a requirement and the announcement will bring a more structured approach to teaching and learning in this area.
“Further down the track, the new learning objectives for curriculum levels 6-8 will result in new achievement standards for NCEA Levels 1 to 3 being written, trialled and registered to reflect the depth of prior learning at curriculum levels 1-5,”
The new content will be around six themes – algorithms, data representation, digital applications, digital devices and infrastructure, humans and computers and programming.
Digital technologies will be included as a strand of the technology learning area in The New Zealand Curriculum, and as a whenu within the Hangarau Wāhanga Ako of Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.
Why hasn’t it been given its own learning area?
Broadly speaking, the changes have been welcomed, but many are frustrated that a number of key recommendations haven’t been adopted, at the lack of additional funding, and at the time it is taking to implement.
Of most concern is that the Minister appears to have ignored the recommendation that digital technologies should have its own learning area, rather than sit as a strand in the technology learning area, effectively placing it alongside vocation-based subjects such as hard materials, food technology and textiles.
The review considered whether having digital technologies as a strand could still achieve the change in focus and attention needed to adequately prepare students for the digital world. Many experts participating in the review were clear that moving it into its own subject learning area was absolutely necessary.
President of NZACDITT (New Zealand Association for Computing, Digital and Information Technology Teachers) Julie McMahon says the new digital technologies strands are unlikely to enact the intended change.
“The Technology Learning Area is not currently given adequate or equitable coverage in years 1-10, as compared with other learning areas. The addition of digital technologies learning objectives puts further pressure on an already crowded curriculum.”
Paul Matthews, chief executive of the Institute of IT Professionals NZ (IITP), says the Minister
has stopped short of truly transforming tech education in schools by refusing to create a proper focused home for digital technologies in its own learning area.
“While we absolutely welcome the introduction of digital technologies and computational thinking down to year 1, and see this as an important step forward, our industry sees the lack of movement on the structure and position of digital technologies in schools as a real lost opportunity.
“It’s like telling a subject as essential as maths that they have to be a part of PE. Both are important, but they’re simply different things,” Matthews says. “Digital technologies needs its own home within the curriculum. Without this, the outcome announced today simply won’t get us where we need to go as a country.”
Industry experts agree, including Orion Health’s Ian McCrae.
“What the tech industry asked for is digital technology to be separated from woodwork, metalwork, cookery and sewing and to become a separate learning area. That hasn’t happened,” he told CIO New Zealand. “We said digital technology needed to become an academic subject on a par with maths and physics. That hasn’t happened.
“And we wanted a major change to the curriculum so that it actually taught secondary school students how to code, rather than how to create a PowerPoint presentation. That hasn’t happened either.”
Lisa Rodgers says she understands the sector’s concerns but stands by the Ministry’s decision.
“We know that some in the IT sector would have liked digital technologies to be separated out from technology. However, when we looked at the overarching definitions of technology within the curriculum, it was an excellent fit with the new digital technologies curriculum content.”
The vision statement for technology is that “students learn to be innovative developers of products and systems and discerning consumers who will make a difference in the world”.
The learning area is described in the curriculum as, “Technology is intervention by design: the use of practical and intellectual resources to develop products and systems that expand human possibilities by addressing needs and realising opportunities. Adaptation and innovation are at the heart of technological practice, and quality outcomes result from thinking and practices that are informed, critical, and creative.”
Rodgers says it is unlikely that digital technologies will be given its own learning area, even following further consultation.
“We have a lot of work to do to implement the significant changes that have just been approved. Revisiting the place of digital technologies in the curriculum isn’t currently part of that work plan.”
Are we adequately preparing students for a digital world?
Minister Parata says the new changes will allow students the opportunity to take a pathway that leads to specialist training for a digital career.
“Our young people need to be prepared to use digital technologies in all industries from automotive engineering to biotechnology.”
Industry leaders agree the approach to digital technologies during the school years will play a significant role in preparing young New Zealanders for careers in the growing tech sector.
MYOB New Zealand general manager James Scollay says it is vitally important that the next generation is equipped with the skills and knowledge required to compete in the digital world.
“New Zealand’s IT sector is vibrant, exciting, dynamic and job-rich. There are enormous opportunities out there for young people looking for a career in IT. This announcement ensures that the most up-to-date digital learning practices will help tomorrow’s tech graduates gain a foothold in the workforce.”
“This is economically important, because New Zealand needs more capacity to be a nation that exports digits – which is all that software and digital information is. This kind of export can scale easily, has a low environmental impact and is very high value.”
However, Ian McCrae describes the curriculum announcement as a “missed opportunity” for New Zealand to lead the world as an innovative digital nation.
“New Zealand requires an education system that can prepare our children for careers in the global marketplace. Technology is emerging as the number two export sector in this country and jobs in this sector are well paid and provide an exciting career path,” he tells CIO.
McCrae points out that leading tech companies such as Orion Health and Xero frequently have large recruitment drives.
“We struggle to find graduates in New Zealand with the right skillset, and are forced to look overseas to fill vacancies. The pipeline to more top computer science graduates begins at secondary school, when young people make subject choices that will influence their learning path. This situation has been repeatedly explained to the Ministry of Education over the last six years.”
Yet, Education Minister Hekia Parata maintains the changes they’re introducing are sufficient.
“The information technology sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in New Zealand, with a demand for skilled graduates,” she says. “This step will support young people to develop skills, confidence and interest in digital technologies and lead them to opportunities across the diverse and growing IT sector. We look forward to continuing to work with the IT sector to ensure we have a future-focused, world-leading education system.”
More funding needed
However, many are concerned that this vision won’t be achieved unless the changes to the curriculum are supported with an increase in funding.
Paul Matthews says significant additional funding is needed to provide the necessary professional development for teachers.
Julie McMahon agrees. She says funding to support the implementation of these new strands is critical to the success and support change.
“The shortage in supply of digital technologies teachers who are adequately trained to deliver to curriculum learning objectives must be addressed through creating initiatives and pathways to become a digital technologies educator. Current in-service teachers will need to be supported through professional learning and development in the new learning objectives, as well as through development of quality teaching resources that support these strands,” says McMahon.
Computer science education expert University of Canterbury Professor Tim Bell has welcomed the curriculum announcement but agrees that the roll-out needs to be funded adequately.
“The key to success will be providing extensive PLD [Professional Learning and Development] for in-service teachers, and making sure that pre-service teachers get good preparation. Presently, the announcement hasn’t shown exactly how this will happen, and we look forward to seeing strong support to empower teachers to deliver the new material,” says Bell.
“This is a qualitative change – there are new topics and skills in the new curriculum and teachers will need a lot of help with pedagogy for teaching about digital technology. But we know from our pilot studies that it will be a positive experience for teachers and students alike.”
The wait is over – or is it?
The tech sector is also frustrated at the time it’s taken to get this far. The announcement follows a 12-month broad review with stakeholders from across the sector followed by seven months of deliberations by the Minister.
“The changes announced are something that should have been implemented from the start,” says Matthews. “The tech industry was looking for leadership, not two years of meetings and reviews. More urgency is needed if the Government is serious about positioning New Zealand for the real economic growth our industry can bring.”
From now until the end of 2017, the Government will consult with stakeholders, design new curriculum content, and develop achievement objectives across the whole learner pathway. It won’t be fully integrated into The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa until 2018.
Orion Health’s Ian McCrae, The Mind Lab chair Frances Valintine and Animation Research chief executive Ian Taylor have called for the inclusion of digital technology to the school curriculum to be fast-tracked. They expressed their concerns in an open letter to the Education Minister.
“Every month we deliberate, every year we spend on reviews, results in another group of children missing out.”