By: Jamie Morton

A new science-backed strategy is needed to prepare New Zealand’s teachers for the digitised classrooms of tomorrow, top advisers say.

They add that a national-level approach would also need to help our young steer clear of the pitfalls of the digital world, from cyber bullying to even fake news and misinformation spread through social media.

The issue has just been canvassed in Digital Futures and Education, a commentary paper by the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman and his counterpart for the Ministry of Education, Professor Stuart McNaughton.

It comes as the Ministry of Education has just begun rolling out its new digital curriculum, which all schools are expected to be using by 2020.

“We need to be well positioned to reap the benefits of the digital world – but we also need to avoid the risks that are inherent in it,” McNaughton said.

According to OECD statistics, 96 per cent of 15-year-olds in developed nations now had a computer at home and three quarters used a desktop computer, laptop or tablet at school.

The average 8 to 10-year-old spent nearly eight hours a day connected to different media, while older teenagers spent more than 11 hours.

In New Zealand, just over 80 per cent of 10-year-olds owned mobile devices, most of whom used the internet every week.

McNaughton said there was a “tremendously exciting challenge” in using technology to enhance teaching, and he saw a need for new evidence-based resources for teachers.

“We need to be preparing teachers and that requires a whole level of new skills,” he said.

“How can we create interesting and challenging activities across all the curriculum areas – and that’s not just English and te reo Maori, but mathematics and science as well.”

There was little evidence that, by themselves, digital devices in schools consistently increased children’s cognitive and social development.

The advisers argued there should be better monitoring and evaluation, and more public discussion around what digital classrooms might look like.

“Critical thinking needs to be fundamental, but we also need to blend in self control and social skills, like getting along with others,” McNaughton said.

“If we don’t get the supporting conditions right, then children are at risk.”

The digital environment had opened children up to a range of threats – especially online abuse or being manipulated.

“That means we have to teach our children different forms of empathy and concern for others, as well as how to be robust and resilient when they confront these things.”

The advisers concluded by urging the “rapid” research and development of smart
digital tools for teaching and learning, designed to aid critical thinking, self-control and social skills.

Source: NZ Herald

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