Griffin on Tech: The kids aren’t alright when it comes to tech ed
There’s been a lot of angst expressed in the last couple of years about our children’s declining performance in benchmarks of academic performance in areas like English, maths and science.
We can add technology to the list, which is a concern given the pressing need to build up proficiency in technology at school to help bolster our domestic tech skills pipeline and eventually reduce our reliance on immigration to meet our needs. The latest National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement undertaken in 2021 found that students scored lower in most areas measured compared to 2016, with a 4% decrease at year 4 (7 - 11-year-olds) and a 6% decrease at year 8 (11 - 13-year-olds).
A big caveat with the study is that it was conducted in the midst of pandemic lockdowns so the 1,200 students surveyed and tested at each year level are lower than normal and fewer schools were included. As a result, the NMSSA chose to limit some aspects of the reporting, particularly for smaller groups such as Pasifika kids.
The Covid effect
Nearly every country has had to grapple with the disruptive impacts of the pandemic on education. This assessment from the US showed huge drops in proficiency in English and Maths during the pandemic as kids were sent home to carry on their studies online.
So there’s no reason why that should be different for the technology component of the curriculum, which for many kids involves them having access to equipment at school (technology ranges from computer coding to the more traditional metal, wood and textiles work and food technology).
The curriculum was also revamped in 2017 to include digital technologies and that’s reflected in the types of things students were tested on, such as the rather cool self-driving cars test that was introduced last year and which aims to get kids to think critically about the pros and cons of autonomous vehicles and learn the basics of programming a car.
The NMSSA didn’t set out to find out why performance in technology is declining, but there are a few nuggets of intel we can glean from the survey results. The survey results from teachers and principals suggest there have been some issues with them understanding how to best deliver this component of the technology curriculum.
Most of them (70%) indicated they were confident teaching the technology curriculum and most had received professional development to upskill to teach the curriculum, which at Year 4 is largely taught by general teachers, with specialists getting involved to a much greater degree at Year 8.
How confident are kids learning tech?
But, the NMSSA pointed out “it should be noted that a non-negligible proportion of teachers lack confidence with digital technologies.
“Most teachers reported that they had experienced some level of challenge in understanding the digital technologies curriculum content. The two factors identified by teachers as most challenging both involved using equipment to deliver aspects of digital technologies,” it added.
Talk to any primary school teacher and you’ll hear a common set of complaints - too much content is being packed into the school curriculum, and teachers are under-resourced, both in terms of time and equipment. This isn’t specific to the technology curriculum, it is across the board, though it is interesting to note that assessed performance in te reo Māori “held steady and even improved”.
That shows the results that can be achieved when an area of the curriculum becomes a particular focus of attention.
When it comes to digital technologies, kids are definitely getting more exposure to them in the classroom. The proportion of students you had done computer programming, coding and robotics, rose from 28% in 2016 to 54% in 2021. For media/graphic design, the proportion rose from 19% to 37%.
Students at Year 4 and Year 8 indicate they have high levels of confidence in using technology in their learning and that hasn’t changed substantially since 2016, even if the tech curriculum has.
What are we to draw from all of this? If we want our kids to go through school developing the skills that will set them up well to pursue a career in the digital economy further down the track, we need to get to grips with what is holding them back. Unfortunately, that’s true across most subject areas and is an issue the education sector is struggling to deal with.
But given the growing importance of technology to the economy and the skills shortages we are contending with, there’s a good argument for giving teachers more support to help them master the digital tech curriculum and inspire the next generation of coders, engineers and designers.
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