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Speech Mallard EduCAT Summit, Waikato University

3 April 2002 Speech Notes

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister of Education

EduCAT Summit, Waikato University

I’d like to start by illustrating to you why I think this conference is not only important, but is essential.

Last year I visited Rata Street School, a decile one school in my electorate, and met Acacia, who had just turned nine and, who until the beginning of last year had never touched a computer.

What you see on the screen is the report card that she presented to her parents in the middle of the year. She designed and wrote the presentation with only minimal help from her teacher.

Children like Acacia are your students of tomorrow.

Their skill levels are already so high that in the future they are not only going to want online learning – they are going to demand it. To them, ICT will be as basic as a pen and paper is to my generation.

I was blown away by the quality of the work I saw at Rata Street School.

But it is just an example of the way ICT has changed education.

When I first studied at this university, there was not a student computer on site. In fact the university computer would have filled half a basketball court and was fed by pre-punched cards. Its power was much less than this notebook.

Now, aside from the obvious research and presentation that students use computers for, the university offers six online degrees, 128 fully internet-based papers, and 500 internet-supported papers. It is still growing and it will continue to grow as more and more people view the internet as their first choice for accessing information and demanding that they be served through the internet. It’s a scenario I’m familiar with in my State Services role as we implement our vision for e-government.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to visit major software companies in Seattle and received briefings and demonstrations on what we can expect in ICT. The lasting impression that I was left with was: Anyone, anytime, anywhere and from any device.

We’re not far off a time where half the people accessing the internet will not be accessing it from a PC. We’ll be using our cellphones, our televisions, our cars, and who knows what else.

That is the World we are moving into. That is the environment that delegates at this conference have to think about when you consider the future of e-education.

Not only is e-education a necessary way forward to cater for the needs of New Zealanders. It has the potential to positively contribute to our global competitive advantage and to expand our current export education initiatives. It has strategic and social importance.

This meeting is a first step towards putting in place the national networks that will allow us to become a global leader in e-education.

We all know that to establish these networks will take a far more collaborative approach to e-education between government, education providers, communities, and industry.

I’d like to congratulate this conference’s organisers for the focus they have put on working together towards this collaborative approach so that we can achieve success in the e-education world.

My role here is to outline what government is doing to support the sector.

Governments across the globe are increasingly recognising that their citizens must develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed for a high technology world. They are investing in the development of e-learning capability.

In New Zealand we are determined to seize the benefits on offer for teaching and learning, specifically where new technology can serve to enrich the learning environment for students.

Our role is to provide strong leadership to the sector as we face the changes together.

We are focusing national resources, and strengthening partnerships with communities, businesses and education providers.

The Digital Opportunities Programme involving the government and major communication companies is an example of this. We’ve worked together and developed four education-based pilots to help New Zealand embrace the economic and social benefits of information technology.

Last July, we released a draft ICT Strategy for Schools, emphasising the integration of ICT into teaching and learning across the curriculum. It builds on the 1998 strategy but with a much greater emphasis on links to work in early-childhood and tertiary sectors, and to wider government initiatives.

We are seeing the spirit of the strategy in a range of exciting initiatives in schools from North Cape to Bluff.

The Kaupapa Ara Whakawhiti Matauranga (KAWM) project is a brilliant example of innovative approaches being taken. It has seen the establishment of a leading-edge video-conferencing network linking Maori schools at different ends of the country.

This world-class example of how ICT can support/promote minority languages took away two significant telecommunications awards last year.

A more widespread success is the ICT cluster programme. Teachers from around 400 schools are taking part in 50 clusters across the country to support professional development in the use of ICT. This ‘school-cluster’ model is proving highly effective, with schools coming up with programmes that meet their own needs, priorities and pace of work.

The continual focus on the professional development needs of teachers is certainly one of my key priorities for ICT in the school sector. Children are not going to be able to reap the benefits that e-learning offers if their teachers are left behind in the 20th century. That’s also the reason that the software deal we negotiated with Microsoft last year covers teachers’ home computers. It’s the reason we are also investigating hardware deals.

Improving bandwidth throughout the country is another key priority for me. That is certainly not something that any government can do alone. But we are carrying out ongoing negotiations with the telecommunications industry to improve the bandwidth nationally so that communities have the capacity that they need.

It is one of life’s ironies that communities that could gain the most from good access to the internet are the same communities that often miss out because of their isolation. The internet offers a means by which people living in our smaller towns and cities can access a wide range of courses without having to leave their home areas. It is a challenge for government to work with the telecommunications industry to make sure those people can seize the opportunities that you are providing them with.

It is an issue that also concerns me in my role of leading our e-government strategy. As part of that, we’re launching the government portal later this year and I have an interest in ensuring that as many New Zealanders as possible can utilise this as a way of accessing government information and services if they choose.

The e-government unit is currently working with core government agencies to ensure their metadata is consistent and able to sit within the portal. How the wider state sector, including tertiary institutions, can be accessed through the portal will be worked on over the next year. The type of scenario I envisage is someone who wants to study online would use the portal to easily find out which tertiary institutions offered the type of course they wanted to complete.

I understand from the e-government unit that tertiary institutions are keen to work with them to establish the necessary metadata for this to work.

There is a lot of evidence to show that tertiary institutions are seizing the benefits of new technology.

Last month my colleague Steve Maharey launched the E-Learning Advisory Group’s report sketching where the sector needs to be heading.

Government welcomed the report and is considering its recommendations closely.

The report confirmed that most tertiary providers use ICT for administrative purposes, communication, and the distribution of materials.

This tends to occur in an uncoordinated manner with little evidence of collaboration.

To get the gains on offer will require some savvy thinking and action.

To achieve the promise of e-learning, tertiary institutions will be challenged to work far more closely together, to achieve whole new levels of partnership and dialogue.

The very nature of e-learning is about joining forces and plugging in with other learning providers.

The E-Learning Advisory Group’s report underlined the need for collaboration between central agencies, tertiary providers, iwi and other stakeholders, including private enterprise.

One of its more interesting recommendations is setting up a Collaborative Development Fund (CDF) as a pool of funding for tertiary providers to access capital in order to develop e-learning capability.

This would not simply be a pool of capital for investment – rather a focus on collaboration and co-operation with other providers.

There is explicit recognition of the investment required in staff and re-orientation of material for on-line components.

Collaboration also means grasping international opportunities in such areas as pooling expertise with other providers, and targeting students who cannot attend in person, or have only limited opportunities to do so.

One of the key implications of e-learning for tertiary education is the opportunity for increasingly flexible learning.

This means providing choices that allow students to meet their own educational requirements in ways suited to their individual needs.

E-learning offers us whole new levels of flexibility in terms of what, when, where, and how tertiary education is accessed.

We need to increase our focus on the needs of learners, providing a good deal more flexibility in the on-line components of learning.

Today’s technologically literate school leavers have higher and higher expectations. They expect student chat rooms and tutorials, ability to access staff and resolve queries, commonly asked questions and so forth. Those expectations are going to continue to grow at a rapid rate.

At the same time, life-long learning is assuming greater importance as ‘job-for-life’ careers vanish and people increasingly embrace several careers with further education in between.

To keep making strides in the area of e-learning will call on us to maintain an unflagging commitment to quality in governance, teaching and learner support.

The elements I have outlined – particularly the willingness to collaborate – will be the hallmarks of our future success – or failure – in this area.

They will determine whether or not you will be able to cater for children like Acacia over the coming years.

I wish you well with your deliberations.

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