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ICT crucial tool for 21st century education

ICT crucial tool for 21st century education

Speech closing the Correspondence School annual conference, Wellington

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

Your second full-staff conference is a landmark event for the Correspondence School and one that I am pleased to have the opportunity to address.

I want to start off with a few remarks about the Government’s vision for education.

Then I want to talk about the future of the Correspondence School as a potential key player in New Zealand’s wider learning network.

Building an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills is one of two key goals that our Government has identified for education over the next few years:

It calls on our educational institutions to be light on their feet, able to change and adapt swiftly to the changes in our economy and society, and global trends.

Central to this will be the increased use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool.

The recent Budget announcements show just how serious we are about this.

I also want to begin work this year on a partnership with school sector stakeholders aimed at developing a vision for the longer-term future of secondary schooling. This reflects messages from communities, educators and leaders in the schooling sector that after years of change and reform, a clear vision is needed of the role and function of secondary schooling.

Our schooling system is delivering good outcomes on average and excellent outcomes for many.

But we know the system is under pressure to be able to meet the needs of all students and that it is being challenged by the degree of change required of it.

There will always be immediate issues and debates to be had in the school sector.

But this new initiative aims to create a process where we can take a longer-term view.

It is the beginning of what I would like to see as a new relationship with the sector and a lively conversation about a shared future of secondary schooling in New Zealand.

Distance education stands to be a key building block of 21st century secondary schooling.

The challenge for distance educators will be to become more open and collaborative.

This is a theme I know Howard Fancy picked up on when he spoke to you earlier.

The shape of distance education is changing.

The coming years are likely to bring fundamental, though gradual, change.

Experience from overseas suggests that the place of large, central and traditional distance education providers in the wider scheme of things, while still important, is becoming smaller.

For example I understand that distance education schools across the Tasman have faced great change in the past couple of decades.

Where once individual schools were close in size to the Correspondence School, now the total student roll of all of them is actually less than yours.

I am not suggesting that this is an inevitable direction or outcome for the Correspondence School, but education as a whole is having to move with the times.

The OECD has done some recent work and is predicting a change from the status quo.

The OECD predictions suggest the schools of the future are likely to be strengthened, creative and high status community institutions.

They talk of strong, distinct, more diverse schools in many cases with new organisational structures.

They also forecast a softening of the traditional divisions between sectors, and a wider diversity amongst students.

Catering for the diversity of students in New Zealand is an issue this Government is increasingly focusing on. As well as our goal of creating an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills, our second education priority is to reduce the level of underachievement that many of our children are experiencing in education.

This means ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, their gender, their ethnicity or where they live, reach their full potential.

We need to ensure that we have high expectations for the achievement of every single student, and that we are responsive to the increasing diversity amongst the students we serve.

There are some real challenges in this and we must have a staff who are individually as well as collectively, committed to change.

Here, ICT plays a strong role as a medium and tool for learning and analysis and for communication. It can break down barriers and ensures that student, parent, community and teacher networks flourish.

To transform the ambitions for our children’s’ education into reality, individual institutions like the Correspondence School need to come up with clear and effective strategies that will be carried out in a supportive environment.

Not all the responsibility for achieving this transformation can, or should rest with Government.

Ensuring that the infrastructure needs of a networked system are in place is one tangible way we can help prepare the ground.

For example, we are currently working to ensure that all schools and communities enjoy high-speed internet access by the end of 2004.

Work on our flagship broadband initiative, Project Probe, is proceeding well, with rollout just a few months away.

It will ensure the infrastructure is in place across the length and breadth of the country to support the development of a wide range of broadband applications.

Broadband will enable schools to videoconference, opening up new learning opportunities that will be especially valuable to small remote schools in the regions.

It will also enable businesses in the regions to access quality information about markets and competitors and open up new opportunities around the world.

The potential is huge and we're excited by the plans we're hearing people come up with, as they discover what access to this technology can mean to them.

ICT and E-learning are important tools in diversifying and strengthening schooling to better meet all students’ needs.

Your experience and achievements in this area put you in good stead to support and lead such developments.

In this context the major immediate issue facing the Correspondence School is the need for a strong and clear vision that fits with the education priorities we have set out. This strategy should also be underpinned by solid business processes to ensure its sustainability.

I suggest that your challenge will be to see yourself – and be seen - as an integral part of the learning network rather than as an “island” or even lighthouse within this.

It means developing collaborative arrangements, rather than competing with: other professional development providers; other producers of curriculum and learning resources; other provider support networks; and even other E-learning or distance education delivery systems.

Education in the 21st century requires new ways of thinking, new capabilities and more flexible approaches.

There are a lot of opportunities and many challenges to face. And as in everything, resources are limited.

Prioritising is important – finding where we can make the most difference and focusing our efforts there.

But the key is to keep in mind at all times is improving quality for the individual student.

I trust that you have had a most successful conference.

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