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Minister's Speech To Compac Education Conference

Trevor Mallard
Minister Of Education
Speech To The Compac Education Conference
Wednesday 5 March 2000

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today about the future of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

Before I start talking about the future directions and plans of the new Government, I wish you a challenging two and a half days. The scope and depth of the programme for this conference impress me. If it's anything like the previous conference, you are going to experience some extremely thought-provoking and useful sessions.

ICT provides many opportunities for development and extension in education. Think of the ICT world as a skateboard. It is designed for movement and to promote movement. At some stage you leap onto the skateboard, trust your weight to it, yet all along you remain its guide. Sure, once you are on it, it can be difficult to stop the wheels turning round. But the excitement and the things that you learn as we race into this new world will set new challenges.

I was delighted by the recent ITAG survey results that showed that 96% (increase from 83% in 1998) of our primary schools and 99% (increase from 96% in 1998) of our secondary schools have an Internet connection. I congratulate you on your work so far. However, this is not a time to become complacent. Regular usage of email and internet by teachers and students (below 30%) is still relatively low.

We also need to closely consider quality issues.

The other day I picked up a copy of Computerworld with a picture on the front cover of a scowling child -–probably aged about four. The pointer read 'He wants your job. Your rivals are getting younger, smarter and more aggressive.' It was actually advertising an IT expo. But to me it was a stark reminder about how switched on kids are when it comes to computing compared to many adults. Some of my contemporaries often bemoan the fact that the most technically literate person in their household is the eight-year-old. It was also a reminder of how important ICT is to our future workforce and economy.

That's why it so important to be pro-active in keeping teachers, principals and parents up with children in this area. If we don’t keep up we will have major quality issues to deal with.

There are parallel concerns in the provision of Maori language in schools. It's been a real struggle for the school system to keep up with the revival of Maori language. The lack of fluency throughout the teaching profession has put at risk the fluency of Maori language among the children coming through from kohanga reo.

In the same way, if we don't make more of an effort to keep up with children in the ICT field, they will leap way ahead of us in their use of computers and the internet. But we run serious risk of them picking up bad habits and using their skills more for playing than learning.

Use of ICT in our schools should focus on enhancing learning across the essential learning areas and teaching children essential skills. It should also build on a sound pedagogical approach. I am interested in making sure that our children experience quality teaching and learning.

That's why we will continue to put such an emphasis on professional development among principals and teachers.

The incorporation of ICT into the classroom can be daunting. Teachers of 20 years ago taught children how to find information in the library. Often encyclopedias were a chief source and children would faithfully read the few paragraphs from the encyclopedia on the subject they were researching. A class would have maybe one session a week in their school library.

Think how much more overwhelming it is to teach children how to research using the internet. Not only does the classroom teacher have to teach the basic search skills, but they have to arm children with the skills to sift through that information; to judge what is worthwhile and quality information; to analyse and translate; rather than just copy and paste.

These are not easy skills to learn. They are even harder skills to teach.

When talking about quality issues in education, I often say that there is nothing more crucial to the quality of a child's learning than the quality of their teacher and that is why this new Government has an emphasis on the provision of professional development across the schools sector.

Certainly the ICT Strategy has a focus on increasing ICT competence. Carol Moffatt from the Ministry of Education will talk more about this later today.

While operating in a global environment, I am also interested in ensuring that our children retain a good understanding of what it means to be a New Zealander. I am therefore pleased that Te Kete Ipurangi, the Online Resource Centre, is bilingual. I am looking forward to launching the new website later this year. This will be an excellent resource for teachers of both Maori and mainstream students. I hope that teachers in Maori language will utilise this well. During my travels as Opposition spokesperson on education, I came across a situation where two teachers were both translating senior physics into Maori without knowing about each other. That sort of doubling up is unnecessary. I hope that better use of modern technology can be made to share that kind of translation work.

I am also keen to progress partnerships with business and between schools. I know that Compaq has already established partnerships with several schools. I congratulate you on this initiative.

While I am eager to share the Government’s future plans with you, I am not going to talk about the specific details today. The budget process is underway and the exact details of the forthcoming year’s programme are still being developed. At this point, however, I can confirm this Government’s commitment to the integration of ICT into our schools and to making ICT more affordable for schools.

This session is an opportunity to reflect on our current performance by asking ourselves key questions such as What are we doing well? What can we do better? How do we measure progress? How do we share information about our successes and the lessons that we have learnt along the way?

I am realistic enough to understand that we’re not going to get everything right the first time. However I would like to point out now that I do have a preference for getting things right the first time. I will be asking for explanations if things aren’t working in the way that I expect. I consider that being part of a knowledge society requires us to use these experiences to learn from and to share. We don't want another Incis type groundbreaking approach to hardware. We need to make sure that we capitalise on our successes and that we learn from the other experiences.

Having said that, I want us to focus on becoming and remaining ICT literate. This means more than excellence in switching the computer on and off. It also means more than an enormous outlay of cash. I want you to be creative. I want you to explore new and exciting ways of helping our students to reach their potential. I believe that, alongside quality teaching, ICT has a particular role to play in closing the gaps for Maori and Pacific students' achievement. I want all our students to be able to fully participate in and contribute to a knowledge society and I want our educators to take an active role in the knowledge society. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves informed of the changing world and to build upon our depth and breadth of knowledge.

I also have a challenge for the manufacturers of computer hardware, software and networking systems. There is nothing wrong with designing technology that is easy to use. I commend the manufacturers who have realised that simple solutions can be appropriate.

As you know, Government is enthusiastic about pursuing e-commerce and e-government. I look forward to highlighting these developments in the next few months.

In the interim, I would like to flag that I am especially interested in ensuring that ICT is effectively integrated into our schools, both administratively and pedagogically. We need to focus on learning with technology not just about technology as one small part of the curriculum. However, we can’t lose focus. We need to consider the contextual appropriateness of the media used and the ways in which learners engage.

I am also extremely interested in shared services and electronic data feedback from schools. I am eager to see distance education in New Zealand becoming more ICT intensive.

However I am also aware that there are some constraints on our work. The digital divide is of concern. We need to make sure that all our schools are connected to the world and have access to the ICT resource bank. Adequate bandwidth is a critical issue. The Government is actively investigating ways to ensure that our schools have access to this bandwidth and that the digital divide is broken down.

When I talk about new directions and paths for the future, I am setting you a challenge. You are the key to making this world change. As you know, ICT is a rapidly evolving environment. A new and different set of skills are required by our teachers. While I wish you all the best for the rest of this conference, I know that the work does not end at the conference closure. I encourage and challenge you to make a difference in our schools. I want you to effectively integrate ICT into our classrooms by taking into account the New Zealand Curriculum Framework and pedagogy. All the best for meeting that challenge.

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