These are exciting times for the education sector. With an impressive new ministerial line-up in education, the anticipation of teachers across the country is palpable. Amongst their educational inheritance, the new draft Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko (DT|HM) curriculum content is on the horizon; ready for implementation in early adopter schools across the country next year, becoming compulsory by 2020. It is exciting to be part of curriculum change, but I think we can do better than what is proposed.
The current NZ curriculum has an international reputation as being innovative and visionary, even now, ten years on from its introduction. Within the NZ curriculum, there are eight learning areas of which Technology is one.
Technology, as such, has been repackaged to incorporate the DT|HM curriculum content. The crux of Technology lies in the 3 interrelated strands – Technological Practice, Technological Knowledge; and the Nature of Technology. Beneath these strands, now sit 5 ‘technological areas’, which include ‘computational thinking for digital technologies’ and ‘designing and developing digital outcomes’ as new additions.
I find it intriguing that specific ‘technological areas’ (or design outcomes) have returned to this rewrite after being purposely omitted from the 2007 NZ curriculum structure (where they are briefly mentioned in the learning area statement).
The rationale, back then, being to open the curriculum and enable the freedom to integrate and choose from an incredibly diverse range of outcomes and contexts. Although, the DT|HM states that these areas “represent the contexts and settings in which students might learn about Technology” (note the word might), this statement is overshadowed by the weighty focus on the five, very specific, areas. Sadly, the lofty reinstatement of these areas runs the risk of returning to an industrial model of education. The inclusion of ‘progress outcomes’ for students adds to this concern.
This type of linear progression along with siloed design outcomes, contradicts the holistic nature of our NZ curriculum document and loses sight of the heart of Technology as a learning area. Many will say that it is about integration and, yes, this has always been the intention of the NZ curriculum. However, anyone who has spent any time in education is acutely aware that there is a huge difference between curriculum intention and curriculum enactment.
The second, and most puzzling addition to the DT|HM, is the compartmentalisation of computational thinking (CT) alongside the 4 design outcomes. CT can be defined as the thought processes involved in creating problems and designing solutions that can be followed, with success, by another information processor (human or otherwise). While CT is absolutely an aspect of digital technology, it is not confined to it as the DT|HM would have us believe, nor is it unique to computer science. In the real world, CT is everywhere and learners should be encouraged to see this. CT is evident in the beauty of a haiku, the creation of a soundscape, the experimentation of kitchen chemistry, the cognitive challenge in a maths problem, and the artistry of a poi performance, but to name a few. CT should not be extracted as a stand-alone entity alongside the design outcomes; it is more important than that. Its natural place is woven throughout the eight learning areas of the entire NZ curriculum. We already have provision for this within the ‘thinking’ area of the key competencies that teachers are already so adept at developing in their learners. Making the wider applications of CT clear to young learners, empowers and enables them to see themselves as capable across contexts. My point here, is that we need a curriculum that clearly supports integration, not merely alludes to it.
I acknowledge that fact that the draft was published and a short period of public consultation ensued. From my perspective, however, this draft was delivered under the radar, with the consultation process a high-speed sweep from one end of the country to the other, for those that knew about it. Communication with schools and communities was minimal, if at all, and there are a huge number of schools who were not part of the process in any shape or form, through no fault of their own. On the flip-side, there are many schools that are already doing everything in the DT|HM and more. However, my concern is for those that have not been an active part of this process and haven’t had time to consider and discuss the content with their students, teachers, schools, boards of trustees, or communities.
With these points in mind, I sincerely hope that the new ministers revisit the DT|HM and put the 3 technological strands back in pride of place by weaving CT throughout the entire NZ curriculum, and lessening the focus on the design outcomes; thus maintaining the richness and diverse potential of the learning area of Technology. I also hope that the Ministry reopens the consultation process and does it justice. Give teachers, principals, boards, and communities time to engage with, unpack, even trial, and consider the wider implications of the DT|HM, and then invite feedback – this is true consultation.
Curriculum design is historically complex, yet exciting as we adapt to the ever-evolving needs of our tamariki. We all want our tamariki to be creative, engaged, curious, and unknown-future-ready. The new DT|HM has the potential to contribute to such an educational vision, but its current form unfortunately promotes a narrow view of learning potential.
Megan Clune is a Woolf Fisher Teaching Fellow working on the University of Auckland’s Bachelor of Education Honours degree in Mathematics and Science Education (primary teaching).