Are our teachers ready for the new digital curriculum?
A few weeks ago the Education Review Office released a report about the readiness of our schools to implement the new digital technologies learning in our National Curriculum at the start of next year. Since then a number of statements have been made through the media that may be causing concern for parents, family, whānau and industry. I want to put the Ministry's voice and perspective clearly into this space.
Most young people are avid users of digital technologies. This intuitive use of digital technologies is fantastic but we want our young people to be more than just consumers and users. We want to make sure that young New Zealanders have the knowledge and skills needed to drive the development and application of new and fresh technologies.
This isn't about children sitting in classrooms working on computers or using devices all day every day. We want to help children and young people understand how digital technologies and programming works - the logic and thought processes that sit behind it. Understanding things like algorithms, artificial intelligence and robotics and how these things are playing an increasing role in our daily lives is important in our evolving digital society.
Until now we haven't had an explicit focus on digital technologies in our National Curriculum - this is new. It is a firm expectation that all schools and kura across New Zealand will be making digital technology learning available to the children and young people they are there to serve. Schools and kura will choose their own approach to how this change will be introduced.
Our teaching workforce is large and, as with any large workforce, change takes time. We do not expect that teachers will all be at the same level of confidence in teaching this material. On any given day of the week or month of the year, teachers will be in different spaces in terms of teaching different areas of the curriculum - not just the digital technologies aspects. We do expect that, over time, teachers will become more and more confident and capable in teaching digital technologies. We expect that by the beginning of 2020, some teachers will be very confident while others will still be building in that area.
While it is the job of schools and kura to teach the curriculum, it is the Ministry's job to work alongside schools and the teaching profession to provide the support, including professional learning and development, that they need.
More than $38 million has been ring-fenced solely to support teachers and principals to get ready to deliver the new digital technologies learning in the National Curriculum. We wanted to make sure that we were doing the best we could with this investment. For that reason we worked with Education Review Office (ERO) last year to give us a baseline so that we could make sure our support was meeting the needs of schools and kura.
We took heart from the fact that the ERO survey showed 95 per cent of teachers were at least somewhat confident to have a go at working in the new digital technologies curriculum content. And we took seriously that we had more work to do. As a result we made a number of improvements and ramped up our communications with schools. We have seen a real step change in the last year. Our Digital Readiness Programme alone has supported more than 12,500 teachers.
There has been some suggestion that children from lower socio-economic areas will miss out on the digital technologies learning in the curriculum, worsening the "digital divide". There is no basis on which to make this claim.
This change to the National Curriculum will mean from 2020, there will be an expectation that all students will learn about digital technologies. The professional support investment package was designed so that all teachers could learn and teach this content no matter their previous experience. Anyone can sign up to the Digital Readiness Programme. There has also been specific support for schools in lower socio-economic areas. The Digital Technologies for All Equity Fund gives classes of students access to cutting-edge technologies and is taught as part of their existing learning programmes and with their existing teacher. The Equity Fund programmes have had full participation and received extremely positive feedback.
The National Digital Challenge 'Tahi Rua Toru Tech' has also been popular and this support is freely available to every school and kura. The combination of children and young people designing digital solutions for real-world local problems with support from an industry mentor has gone down really well. Their passion and enthusiasm has led to great ideas such as a 3D game to help to look after personal mental health and overcome grief and sadness, a game built around pollution awareness and being able to see stars in the night sky, and an app for new entrants to see a 360-degree view of their new entrant classroom so new children would feel more familiar with their new school environment. The Challenge has also doubled as a tool for teachers to begin teaching the new content. As a result we have seen a 50% increase in uptake with teachers - across a larger number of schools. These schools are from a range of decile backgrounds and all over New Zealand.
With around 2,500 schools across New Zealand we won't hit the mark every time for every principal or teacher, but we will continue to be here to work alongside schools and the profession to help make sure Kiwi children are positioned to capably take part in our evolving digital society.
Ellen MacGregor-Reid is the Ministry of Education's Deputy Secretary, Early Learning and Student Achievement.
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