An article published on Stuff (“Gap in kids’ digital knowledge feared as teachers not up to speed on new tech curriculum”) has highlighted significant problems with the implementation of the new digital technologies areas of the New Zealand curriculum, first announced late in 2017. Despite significant investment by the Ministry of Education in paying third party suppliers to provide suitable upskilling for the teaching profession in integrating digital technologies across the curriculum, teachers apparently lack the confidence to roll out the new learning areas in time for the Government’s fast approaching (and always ambitious) 2020 deadline. This failure to engage and support the teaching profession can only deepen the chronic digital divides in New Zealand education that impacts particularly on Māori, Pacific and female students. Apparently, less than ten percent of teachers are anywhere near ready to bring digital technologies into their professional practice. According to the article, only about 20 percent of teachers have even logged on to the Ministry’s Kia
Takatū ā-Matihiko digital readiness programme website, just the initial step in upskilling, and most schools, we are told, are doing just “bits” of professional development.
All this comes as no surprise to those of us who engage every week every week with teachers across the country through our Postgraduate Certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning, which addresses the core pedagogies, technologies and learning approaches necessary for teachers to successfully integrate digital technologies into their classrooms in an impactful and balanced way. In answer to the question “what’s happening at your school to help you and your colleagues to prepare?” a common answer is “nothing”. An equally common (and alarming) response is “oh we have someone else who is doing that”. This goes against the whole philosophy of the new curriculum areas. They are not meant to be a standalone technology subject. Rather, they are intended to be integrated across the curriculum by all teachers in ways appropriate to the contexts and purposes of their classrooms. The recent OECD report “Measuring Innovation in Education 2019” indicates that New Zealand has been doing well in terms of bringing ICT into schools, but not so well when it comes to innovation in teacher education. If teachers don’t know how to use digital tools effectively for learning, then these will be wasted resources. Another recent Stuff article about iPads in a school in Sydney (“‘Major distraction’: Australian primary school dumps iPads, returns to paper textbooks”) serves as a warning. The school indicated that these expensive and powerful devices were no longer to be used because they were “hindering learning”. It turned out they were being used only to replace printed textbooks with e-books, a rather uninspiring task for which simple e-readers would have been far more appropriate (if necessary at all). A pointless exercise and a wasted opportunity, though the article was posted on Stuff on April 1st so I’m hopeful it was an April Fool, given the absurdity of the whole enterprise. Seymour Papert, the great advocator of learning with technologies, is often quoted as saying (in “The Children’s Machine”, 1993) that nothing could be more absurd than an experiment in which computers are placed in a classroom where nothing else is changed. That may be the problem we will face if we continue to invest in technology but not in developing teachers’ confidence to choose how, why and when to use digital tools in the best possible way to enhance their students’ purposeful learning journeys.