The place of Digital Technologies in the curriculum

The place of Digital technologies in the curriculum

The Institute of IT Professionals has welcomed the Government’s announcement of a new science and technology strategic plan. 29 July 2014. It is not surprising that they welcome this because it was the IITP who lobbied the Government for this change. It is of great concern that the National Government is prepared to take on board an industries view which, at first, sounds logical and then foist significant changes on the education industry.

There are three documents that I would like to critique: The IITO Techblog, the background document, and the Science and Technology s Strategic Plan.

Firstly, the IITO Tech Blog. Which describes the Government document as containing a series of initiates to increase the science and technology focus in NZ schools. It also wants to review the positioning of IT in the Technology Curriculum as it believes that it would be better placed in the Science Curriculum. The debate should be about what and how IT is taught; its location should be immaterial.

I should stop this argument right here because by adding further to the discussion is adding fuel to the legitimacy of shifting IT from Technology to Science. We should be using our energy and discussion time to explore ways that we can break down the artificial barriers of learning in subject silos, not building new walls.

The IT professionals want IT shifted to Science because they see Technology as being associated with low status subjects such as ‘woodwork’. This is subject snobbery, it makes me wonder when was the last time they went into a technology classroom and saw some of the deep thinking engaging projects that students are working on – the type of real world problems that are leading the change for education. I do realise that this is not the case in all schools and more Professional Learning is needed. It was the National Government that severely reduced the advisory service. Furthermore, in most schools the IT and technology department are not administratively or physically located in the same place; the students, mostly, do not make a distinction between them.

I applaud, as does the IITP, the idea of increasing teacher resourcing and professional development. I believe that this is the key, a change in location to another banner is not going to make a difference. What would make a difference is if the industry is allowed to push the focus to predominantly IT skills rather than process skills, then we will certainly be worse off.

If we allow every industry to shanghai education subjects, then we are in trouble. Education is under continuous pressure to add to an overcrowded curriculum. In Clarence Beeby’s 1939 words “we aim to provide a free general education to every child”

Secondly, the background document. This is the document that shows the thinking behind the Government document. The document states that “NZ has world leading Digital Technologies Achievement Standards” so why do we need change?

The Digital Science curriculum is ‘the study of the structure and behaviour of the digital world through observation and experiment’. It is all very well to understand how a computer works but what we need is for students to know how to use them to assist their learning. The Technology Curriculum is ‘The purposeful intervention by design’ – by contrast, this gives enormous scope to offer an innovation programme of learning that is future proofed.

The document states that students are unable to access ‘top level’ learning. This is not true as Technology is a Scholarship subject.

It claims that students need a comprehensive focus on both using and creating with computers and other technology. This is exactly what student do in Technology Education. Clearly they don’t include ‘woodwork’ in other technologies.

“Digital technology skills are essential for every learner … so the structure of NZ Curriculum needs to change”. I think they are saying that computing should be compulsory – placing IT in Science will not change that.

It claims that Digital Information, Digital Media, Programming, Computer Science, Electronics, and infrastructure are only taught in Digital Technologies. In fact these technologies are also taught in Hard materials, Food Technology, Textile Design and Graphics – which is now called Design and Visual communication, as well as in most if not all other subjects.

“It is also fair to say that all areas of the Technology learning Area other than Digital Technologies are focussed on vocational, non-academic outcomes” well, it is NOT fair to say this. You could also say that all Digital Technologies lead to vocational outcomes.

The three proposed strands in IT would be Digital Literacy, Digital Practice, and Digital Technologies. The existing Technology Covers all three of these strands plus the most important strand, missing from their proposal, that of the Nature of Technology. Without considering the sociological, environmental, sustainability factors in a design they will simply not be fit-for-purpose. This is a cornerstone of Technology Education, and an understanding that makes IT what it is today. Note to Novopay that missed this step in design development.

“A Nation of Curious Minds commits to making changes to both initial teacher training, and professional learning in science and technology” – So they want IT out of Technology and they want to change Technology as well?

I do agree with the sentiment that better resourcing, more support and a review of professional learning is required

Thirdly, the  ‘A Nation of Curious Minds’ document itself. This seems a rather bland aspirational document that does not point to any of the underlying agenda as previously purported. However, it does seem to me that they do not understand the difference between Science and Technology as it is used interchangeably throughout the document.

In conclusion

This half-baked idea by a special interest group smacks of a Government hell-bent on commercialising every opportunity and seeing education purely as a mechanism for generating future revenue.

Certainly the teaching of IT in schools is not perfect, far from it, but this is an education problem needing to be solved by expert teachers. The other alternative is to get all stake holders around a table and talk through the issues, not just foist it upon them. It must also be remember that if we do want change then it will have to be brought about by the existing teachers – It would be better to support them than alienate them.

I encourage your conversation @beechEdesignz

1 Comment

  1. Paul Matthews

    Hi Terry,

    Thanks for your perspective on this – you make some really good points and it’s excellent this is being considered and discussed (irrespective of whether you agree with the proposal or not). The best outcome will only come from discussion and debate throughout the education sector.

    I’m not going to address all points, but did want to clarify a couple of things.

    Firstly, any change is NOT being foisted on Education. DT teachers have always been, and will continue to be, a core part of any discussion of change. The government and Ministry of Education have only committed to review the position of Digital Technologies, nothing more and nothing less. If the result of the review and subsequent consultation is that it’s better for kiwi students, teachers, schools and New Zealand’s future for it to stay where it is then we shouldn’t be in any doubt that that’s what the outcome will be.

    It’s also very important to note that the document we released was very much our view only, not the Ministry’s, and the different perspectives and approaches shouldn’t be conflated. It’s fair to say that the bar is set high for these sorts of changes, so proponents will need to put a very strong case for change.

    Secondly, our proposal is *not* to move DT from the Technology Learning Area to Science as you have stated. It is to move DT into its own Learning Area that focuses on computing and digital technologies throughout all school levels. Some schools are doing amazing things despite the lack of suitable home for DT at all levels, however all would benefit from the increased focus and resources that would come from a dedicated learning area.

    Given the importance of technology (in the computing and IT sense) to kiwi student’s future, it’s essential we prepare students and resource computing and DT – at both digital literacy and digital technologies levels – at a scale simply not achievable under the current structure. We in industry may not be teachers ourselves (although a number of IITP members are), but we don’t apologise for pushing for what’s best for New Zealand’s future in an increasingly digital world.

    And lastly, we are in complete agreement that Digital Technologies teachers need to be a major part of any discussions and change. The proposal isn’t new – it’s something we’ve worked on for a number of years, and at every stage this has been heavily influenced by IT teachers. It has been a strong partnership and one we highly value. We have also made it very clear publicly and privately that we see DT teachers’ involvement as pivotal to the success of both the review and of any changes, and I’m very happy to re-affirm that here. It will not proceed without the support of DT teachers.

    Along those lines, I should point out by and large that as a generalisation, Digital Technologies teachers appear to very strongly support the proposed change. To give you an example, during a discussion on a teacher mailing list following the announcement more than 50 current Digital Technologies teachers replied either publicly or privately very strongly supporting the proposal. “Fantastic”, “About time”, “Way overdue” and “Brilliant” were themes in the responses and while some were cautious and outlined factors that would need to be considered in the review, the overwhelming majority of Digital Tech teachers were very strongly in support of the review.

    So no, we’re not saying DT should be a part of science. And no, we’re not trying to foist something on Education, nor is our view on a new Learning Area necessarily shared by the Ministry. And no, this isn’t happening without the support of DT teachers and yes, they’ll absolutely be a part of the review and any changes if we have anything to say about it.

    Thanks for taking the time to post – you have an excellent blog. And thanks for providing the opportunity to reply with these comments. Again, it’s great this is being discussed and debated.

    Kind regards,

    Paul Matthews
    CEO, Institute of IT Professionals NZ (IITP)

    P.S. In a couple of places you’ve referred to us as “IITO”. Just noting that we’re actually “IITP” :). Thanks


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *