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Govt's digital tech in schools announcement not up to scratch

Last week the Government announced digital technology will be formally integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum.

And while the announcement has been welcomed by many,  the Institute of IT Professionals NZ says the the programme could do better.

The IITP is a technology professional body representing thousands of IT professionals across New Zealand. And while the organisation welcomes the expansion of digital tech in schools announced by Minister of Education Hekia Parata last week, it is ‘disappointed’ the broader changes needed in this area have apparently been dumped. 

The changes announced last week include an expansion of Digital Technologies in the curriculum from senior secondary, where it currently resides, right down to Year 1. While schools could teach Digital Technologies at all levels already, the announcement of a more structured approach will support teaching and focus attention in this area.

However, according to the IITP, Parata 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, or significant additional funding for professional development for teachers.

The organisation says experts have made it clear that both are necessary to achieve the educational transformation needed to prepare students for today’s digital world.

IITP chief executive Paul Matthews says he wants to see a Digital Technologies programme deliver the best results possible for New Zealand students.

“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,” he says.

Digital Technologies in schools currently sits alongside vocation-based subjects such as hard materials, food technology and textiles derived from woodwork, metalwork, cooking and sewing respectively. The review considered whether keeping it there could still achieve the change in focus and attention needed to prepare students for the digital world, and to enable New Zealand to achieve strong tech-led economic growth. 

Matthews says experts participating in the review from the tech profession, industry, digital technologies teachers, researchers and other domain experts were clear that moving it into its own subject learning area was absolutely necessary, thus the decision by the Minister to block this was disappointing.

“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,” he says.

“The vast majority of those participating in the review recognised that a transformational change was needed. The world has changed and we need to get serious about preparing our kids for their digital future,” Matthews adds.

“Digital Technologies needs its own home within the curriculum. Without this, the outcome announced simply won’t get us where we need to go as a country,” he says.

Matthews says the tech industry is also disappointed at the lack of real funding in this area, and the time lost over several years.

Last week’s 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,” Matthews says. “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.”

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