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Carter: Moving Minds Conference, London

Hon Chris Carter
Minister of Education

9 January 2008 Speech
Moving Minds Conference, London

Good morning and Kia ora. I have the responsibility today to outline to you some of the work we are doing in New Zealand in providing an education system for the 21st century. This task by definition must involve information technologies that help to move young minds.

Playing behind me is a visual presentation of some of the work that is happening in New Zealand schools and communities today. Much of this will seem very familiar to you; other aspects may need some contextual interpretation.

New Zealand is a country about the same size as Italy or the United Kingdom, but with a small population of just over 4 million. We have a strong tradition of a well-funded state education system that has generally been responsive to new ideas and programmes. In 1987 New Zealand schools became self-managing with the state providing resources but with schools having a great deal of flexibility to make financial decisions for themselves. Active management of each school now rests with an elected Board of Trustees. Each secondary school also contains a student representative on the school’s Board of Trustees.

New Zealand has a strong tradition of research and innovation in education. Some of you will be familiar with the work of leading New Zealand educators like Marie Clay who have done extensive research and development in reading literacy. Indeed in the recently-published OECD Programme for International Student assessment (PISA) results, New Zealand scored highest in science, mathematics and reading among English speaking countries.

Such success does not mean that all our students are achieving as well as they could. Nor does it mean that we are complacent about developing new programmes to capitalise on the opportunities offered by modern communication technologies. The Government has developed a comprehensive digital strategy that focuses heavily on the opportunities in education. More information is available on www.digitalstrategy.govt.nz.

A particular challenge for us is to try and ensure that students from lower socio-economic families have access to the Internet and the educational opportunities such access can provide. I was very interested to read an article in the Guardian newspaper last week about UK School’s Minister Jim Knight’s proposal to provide high-speed internet access in every home. An interesting idea! I am keen to read the report on the proposal due to be published in April.

Education is a life-long opportunity for every individual. Transforming the economy means not just equipping young people with appropriate training and skills but also fostering a sense of inquiry, curiosity and responsibility. Just 7 weeks ago I launched our new Curriculum for all schools in New Zealand. This document is not a syllabus but rather a framework for guiding teachers on what we deem is important in education. It takes as its starting point, a vision of young New Zealanders as life-long learners, people that we want to be skilled, confident and creative. More information about our new curriculum can be seen on http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/.

Our curriculum includes a clear set of principles on which to base curriculum decision-making. It sets out important values that we want to foster in young people. These values include such things as excellence, inquiry, diversity, participation and ecological sustainability. On 5 June, New Zealand will be launching World Environment Day and this year I will be focusing a lot on new programmes that will promote environmental sustainability and conservation. New school buildings will reflect this as well as practise and curriculum planning. For 5 years I was Conservation Minister and I have a particular passion about environmental education. More information about the work taking place in New Zealand schools on environmental education can be seen at www.tki.org.nz/r/environ_ed/.

From the images behind me you will have already determined that New Zealand is a very multi-ethnic and multicultural society. Today, one New Zealander in four was born outside our country. Our cities and regions are now home to more than 180 nationalities and Auckland is currently the most racially diverse city in the Southern Hemisphere.

The challenge of cultural identity and language preservation for our indigenous people, the Maori, currently some 16% of the total New Zealand population, is a particular social and educational challenge. The use of modern technology in schools is an increasingly important tool in promoting the use of the Maori language and culture for all New Zealand pupils. More information on these programmes can be viewed under Maori Education on the Ministry of Education’s website www.minedu.govt.nz. The Office of Ethnic Affairs, a Government Department that I also have responsibility for, has been doing some interesting work in fostering programmes connecting New Zealand’s diverse communities. More information can be seen on www.ethnicaffairs.govt.nz.

Just what are we doing in moving young minds with information communication technology?

New Zealand’s priorities for the use of Information Communication Technology in schooling are contained in the current document “Enabling the 21st Century Learner and e-learning Action Plan for Schools 2006-10” at www.minedu.govt.nz.

This plan has an underlying vision for schooling that at the heart of any 21st Century education system will be knowledge and communication networks. The plan builds on an almost 20 year history of embedding ICT in the curriculum to support teaching and learning rather than focussing on ICT as a discrete knowledge and skills area. Our strategy has always been pedagogically rather than technology driven.

The approach in primary schools was always to distribute computers around classrooms to be part of the daily activities of the class. Secondary schools tended to lock their computers away in labs but increasingly they have adopted the primary model and cascaded their early computers more and more around classrooms.

What has New Zealand done to provide schools with the resources to develop ICT in schools?

In designing any national electronic communication technology we have some particular geographic and structural challenges in ensuring that all our schools have equitable access to the same quality and type of educational experiences.

New Zealand, like Chile, is a long thin country, but it is made up of two mountainous islands separated by a deep stretch of water. All schools have Internet access of some form or other but speed and quality vary a lot. Many of our 2700 schools are small, 50% with less than 170 students, and many of these schools are in isolated rural areas.

Many of the small rural high schools have experienced declining student rolls due to changes in farming and population. They often lack capacity to provide the full curriculum to senior students. One solution we are actively developing is the Virtual Learning Network (VLN). http://cms.steo.govt.nz/eLearning/Projects/Virtual+Learning+Network+(VLN).htm.

The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) supports the concept of classrooms without walls. A place where students and educators have the flexibility to connect with their classes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and where a rich and diverse range of courses, programmes and activities, from early childhood through to tertiary education, are offered by New Zealand-based educators.

This site connects teachers and learners; creates opportunities for schools to work together; and allows individuals to learn through online programmes and/or using video conferencing for curriculum support.

Courses are delivered by schools and tertiary institutions. They use video conferencing through the Education Ministry’s video conferencing bridge – complemented and supported by the Correspondence School.


We have also developed e-Mentoring for music education and are running a pilot programme using e-mentoring as part of ARTS online to deliver music lessons. The trial was established to examine the possibilities for real-time, online tuition. The programme is delivered through video-conferencing and website technologies. It is supported by some face-to-face lessons delivered to students.

Such opportunities for e-mentoring and the professional discussion around this can now be delivered to multi-point locations.

Students can mentor students, and community artists can work with schools and teachers to share their expertise. It provides support for teachers’ professional skills and knowledge no matter which region they live in, or the remoteness of their school or centre.

Schools are now planning to continue these music programmes, and extend opportunities for students, notably utilising the newly developed skills, knowledge and confidence of the students who took part in the project.

Another example is the e-mentoring programme using the Digital Conversations website where students are able to video-conference with experts from around the world.

One challenge each of us faces is how to provide resources which make a meaningful difference to students who come from poorer households who don’t have computers or access to the net. In the Guardian article I referred to in the beginning of this presentation I noted Jim Knight’s ambition to achieve Internet access into every home. Jim is exploring a solution to a problem faced by all of us - how to break cycles of deprivation and increase education achievement for those currently failing in the educational system.

In New Zealand we have initially addressed the problems of wealth inequalities by classifying all state schools with a decile rating based on parental income levels. Using census data a precise analysis of the socio-economic make up of each school’s parental community can be determined. Schools with the poorest parent communities receive the most resourcing. My Government have made a very significant injection of extra resources into education over the last 8 years. Total education spending has increased by 68%. In addition a number of ICT related initiatives have been introduced. One of these has been “Computers in Homes” which aims to reduce the disadvantages of the digital divide.

The Computers In Homes project (CIH) supports low-income communities using ICT to strengthen their education. It is very much about what ICT can do to for family opportunity rather than a hardware dump or the learning of computer skills for their own sake.

Government has done this in partnership with a charitable trust. This works through schools to reach the families in the community without access to computers or the Internet. The project works via low decile schools to help families in greatest need to use the Internet, e-mail and basic computer skills in their daily lives to enhance their performance at school and at work.

Training for parents is provided at their children's school and this must be completed before the computer is taken home to the family. Government funding is matched by community support to ensure that the project is self-sustaining.

An independent review showed that the Computers in Homes intervention was deemed to be highly effective. There was high usage of the computers by families, with benefits to both the child and the family, and the computers became important to the families.

Investment in communities is also an important part of the government’s National Digital Strategy through the Community Partnership Fund, which is now the prime funder of Computers in Homes.
More information about this programme can be seen on wwwdigitalstrategy.govt.nz/Funding/The-Community-Partnership-Fund/.

In Conclusion:


New Zealand is trying to ensure that our school system transforms us into a knowledge society. Moving young minds into the 21st Century. We see the use of ICTs as fundamental to this.

Some practical ICT initiatives we have developed in recent years have been the provision of laptops for teachers. All school principals were given a free laptop and classroom teachers have the opportunity to lease for a very modest amount a laptop on a three-year programme. Take-up among classroom teachers has been high. A review of the programme has shown that it has been very successful in promoting ICT use by teachers.

Another successful ICT initiative has been the use of clusters for professional development. These have been particularly successful in enabling teachers to share not only good practice in the effective use of ICT but simply good curriculum teaching and learning practice.

Other developments include online professional development and professional networking for all principals, extending broadband coverage to all schools, prioritising ICT support to low income schools and rural schools, and the development of a nationwide e-admin network for all schools including an online student information service ( ENROL ) completed in 2007.

Our next step is to develop new funding streams to support and expand the use of ICTs in schools.

In a knowledge society, everyone needs the thinking, skills and knowledge once reserved for the high-achieving students. Learners will not be able to survive on “one shot” of education that will serve them for life.

They will need to gain the skills for life-long learning. They will need to problem-solve, be self-motivated, work with others, create, and innovate. Above all they will need to be able to communicate effectively and use all the information communication technologies available to them.

In New Zealand we see this as an important part of our vision for education in the 21st century.

We stand at the start of a new century seeking to transform our nation. The power of education to drive that change is as potent as ever. But we can only exercise that power if education itself is transformed, and e-learning will make a substantial contribution to that transformation.

I have available copies of our e-Learning Action Plan for Schools 2006 – 2010 “ Enabling the 21st Century Learner” for those of you who may be interested.

Thank you for listening to me today.

Any further information can of course be provided instantly online!


ENDS

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