Q+A: Education Minister Nikki Kaye interviewed by Corin Dann
Q+A: Education Minister Nikki Kaye interviewed by
Education Minister Nikki Kaye says including digital learning and computer coding as part of the school curriculum won’t come at the expense of other core subjects.
This week Nikki Kaye announced a $40m package aimed at updating the school curriculum to enhance digital learning.
‘The point I would make is while it’s going alongside everything else, it’s not just separate. So if you learn computational thinking, there is mathematics involved in that, in algorithms. So there are skills that are transferable. If you think about young people learning numeracy and literacy, that helps when they’re learning science, because they need to use statistics.’
Speaking on TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme, Nikki Kaye told Corin Dann it would be negligent if we didn’t look ahead.
‘The nature of the responsibility as minister of education is to do exactly that, to say, ‘Where are the jobs going to be in the future? What are the skills that we need for the 21st century?’
Nikki Kaye told Corin Dann, we have to continue to do more in maths.
‘So we know at year eight that there is a slip in terms of mathematics, so we’ve said that we will get 80% of our young people by 2021 in year eight, in terms of mathematics. That’s about putting more professional development in; it’s about a range of things across communities of learning, looking at the granular detail of those children. Now that we have national standards, we know where they are. We are putting interventions in to help them. We certainly do have to have the accelerator on.’
Please find the full transcript attached.
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Q + A
Interviewed by Corin Dann
CORIN Minister, thank you
very much for joining us this morning. Big changes this
week, big changes in terms of the curriculum for our kids
– bringing in the idea of coding, bringing in the ideas
around digital and computational thinking. What is it that
you are imagining a student leaving high school, say, in 10
years’ time will be able to do with this
NIKKI They are going to be able to be at the forefront of creating solutions, whether it’s in science and mathematics, so they will be directing the technology. And we currently have a situation where many young people in our schools are using technology, but they are not at the forefront of designing that.
CORIN All of them?
NIKKI Some of them are coding, absolutely. We have organisations like Code Club. You’ve got Frances Valintine in terms of Mind Lab. There are a number of young people that are just charging ahead in this area, but the scale of what we need to do is very significant.
CORIN So why do we need all kids to learn this stuff?
NIKKI Because if you look at what is occurring and what the predictions are in terms of where the jobs will be, there is an estimate that 40% of jobs within 10 to 15 years may be automated. So the concept that we want young people not just using this technology but being able to create the latest technology is actually crucial in terms of the jobs of the future.
CORIN But here’s the thing – why are we trying to predict the future? We don’t have any idea what’s going to be the technology in 10, 20 years’ time. Why aren’t we just sticking to the core subjects, get them right, and trusting that the kids will be okay if their maths is good?
NIKKI Corin, I think we would be negligent if we didn’t look ahead. The nature of the responsibility as minister of education is to do exactly that, to say, ‘Where are the jobs going to be in the future? What are the skills that we need for the 21st century?’
CORIN And do you know what they are? You can’t possibly know.
NIKKI Right across the world, countries are having this conversation. We are not the only country to be moving in this area. It’s very clear there’s actually quite a common argument around what are basic 21st-century skills. We know already. If you talk to the ICT industry, they are screaming out for graduates with some of these skills.
CORIN What are those basic 21st-century skills, then? Because I would argue that, nowadays, most kids have already sussed out how to use electronic devices before they’ve even got to school.
NIKKI They might be able to use the electronic devices, but they certainly aren’t necessarily the ones that are creating the latest game that’s going to affect mathematics. They’re not the ones that are at the forefront of creating the latest robot that is going to help out in science and medicine.
CORIN But is it a question of—? Those kids will find that pathway anyway, won’t they? You are just trying to get more kids to do that, is that what it is?
NIKKI We believe that every young person should understand the basics of computational thinking and be able to design new technologies.
CORIN So, just roll that back – what is computational thinking?
NIKKI Computational thinking – it’s basically being able to instruct new technology but also solve problems, whether it is designing a new piece of technology or debugging it. There are some basic principles that are set out in the curriculum. A lot of people have been involved in this, from education and ICT leaders. I do think it is quite world-leading in that we’ve made it very flexible so it can be future-proof for the next technology, whether it’s artificial intelligence. And I think it is important that young people realise— I mean, if you look at the changes that have happened even in 20 years in terms of technology, it’s not just about the jobs. Our society is changing, and young people need to be able to navigate that.
CORIN And there’s an incredible amount of anxiety about this. Because I’m a parent – I’ve got three boys. They love their screens. And I think a lot of parents can associate with this. On the one hand, they can see the advantages of this. They know that technology— The kids love it. They get it. But they are also anxious, because kids spend so much time on screens, and they are thinking, ‘Well, hang on, they’re going to go to school now, and now it’s going to be even more normalised.’ Is there not a danger that you are going to cut out other parts of important learning?
NIKKI I think there’s a couple of things. Firstly, there is a good amount of time online and a bad amount of time online.
CORIN And it is a battle for parents, though. What can we do about it?
NIKKI Well, I think there’s a couple of things. We recently released screen guidelines that said in terms of recreational time should be two hours. In my view, technology is moving in a sense that we may not have screens—
CORIN Sorry, two hours a day?
NIKKI That’s recreational. That’s recreational screen time. In terms of in our schools, most teachers that I talk to, they actually are understanding that there is a lot that doesn’t actually need to happen in terms of the device. We’ve got video conferencing in classrooms now. I think there’s going to be a shift in terms of technology to voice, and so it’s not just about the screen. It’s more about what that young person is learning.
CORIN But every child from high school, pretty much, has a screen, don’t they? Their own personalised device, or is required to, pretty much.
NIKKI We do have high proliferation of devices in New Zealand, and I think the more that we can do to educate young people – but also our teachers and our parents – about what is a good amount of time online is a good thing. I’ve actually asked the chief science advisers this week to do a piece of work around what the impact of technology is on other skills. So I think it is a very important debate to have. But we shouldn’t stop enabling young people to have basic skills that are going to ensure they have a job in the future, because we’re worried about that. We’ve got to do both.
CORIN What goes from the curriculum to make way for this?
NIKKI Look, there will be lots of conversations about the curriculum in the future. From my perspective, the other thing that we can do to enable teachers to have the time to be able to deliver this is reduce their workload in areas like administration. I launched a project this week alongside the curriculum changes to say, ‘What can we do to reduce that administration?’ I also put $2.9 million in this project to ensure that we get NCEA online if we reduce the time that they are spending on assessments.
CORIN So, teachers will get plenty of support. Maybe they get some efficiency improvements and don’t have to spend so much time. But what goes out of the curriculum? Do you have to make way?
NIKKI We’ll continue to review the curriculum, but my point would be you either take an approach which is ‘something goes out’, or you move in a direction that says, ‘What can we possibly do to free teachers up?’
CORIN So you’re going to squeeze this in alongside everything else?
NIKKI The point I would make is while it’s going alongside everything else, it’s not just separate. So if you learn computational thinking, there is mathematics involved in that, in algorithms. So there are skills that are transferable. If you think about young people learning numeracy and literacy, that helps when they’re learning science, because they need to use statistics.
CORIN Sure, but parents
watching this will be worried that— Is this going to mean
less English, less history, less other subjects? Can you
NIKKI I can give that guarantee that we are absolutely focused on making sure that we invest in all of those areas. That’s why the recent professional development changes— And that’s why we actually announced an additional $24 million. We could’ve just gone and re-prioritised numeracy and literacy, PLD – professional development. We didn’t do that. We put an extra $24 million so that we could make sure that we are absolutely continuing to lift achievement in those areas.
CORIN Have we got the maths skills in this country to be world leaders in this sort of technology? I mean, our PISA— The international rankings, they’re not great. There are not terrible, but they’re not great.
NIKKI We have to continue to do more in maths, and that’s why both through the professional development changes where we’ve now got a number of academics assisting with the design of that PLD. Through the funding review, we’ll be looking at where we can help more in terms of those that are most disadvantaged. We’ve got a range of things in train that, in my view, will lead to achievement raising.
CORIN But the issue is that, if you look at the New Zealand Initiative’s findings, that the way in which we have been teaching mathematics is arguably not really making much of a difference.
NIKKI And that’s why these professional development changes are crucial. But also now we have communities of learning, which are clusters of schools that are down at the granular—
CORIN What does professional development training mean?
NIKKI Professional development is a range of courses that assist with—
CORIN Upskilling teachers?
NIKKI Absolutely, so assist with teacher practice. But we also have invested in a range of skills like the PaCT tool, which enable teachers to go down to that granular detail around a child and look at the specific competencies in maths.
CORIN Why don’t you pay maths teachers more?
NIKKI We’ve actually increased teacher salaries by about 18%, and I think people will always argue that. From my perspective, you’ve got to do a range of things in terms of the system to improve achievement. That’s everything from investing in PLD; it’s the funding review; it’s also working very carefully around the achievement challenge.
CORIN The OECD this month said in its report our maths is poor; it’s a barrier to better performance in science and engineering. Do you believe that? I know Bill English mentioned it in his speech at the weekend that maths was a priority. What are you going do about it?
NIKKI Well, I think there are a couple of things. We announced recently the Better Public Service target. Because it’s about looking younger. So we know at year eight that there is a slip in terms of mathematics, so we’ve said that we will get 80% of our young people by 2021 in year eight, in terms of mathematics. That’s about putting more professional development in; it’s about a range of things across communities of learning, looking at the granular detail of those children. Now that we have national standards, we know where they are. We are putting interventions in to help them. We certainly do have to have the accelerator on.
CORIN At its core, though, the New Zealand Initiative basically said we moved away from rote learning and we need to get back to it.
NIKKI I think there’s going to be a range of conversations in terms of how we lift achievement. We’re doing more than ever, and we’ve actually got some significant results, particularly around Maori and Pasifika achievement. When we know where those kids are and we put the resources there and we put the interventions in, we lift achievement.
CORIN New Zealand Herald did quite an interesting article last year, I think, Kirsty Johnson, about NCEA and those results. You have got some good results, in terms of NCEA and disadvantaged groups, Pacific Island students, Maori students. But the point I think she made, and the New Zealand Herald made, was a lot of those students are going into vocational subjects and weren’t being pushed, perhaps harder, into some of the subjects like maths and those sorts of things. Does that concern you?
NIKKI There are a couple of things. The first thing is under the previous government, thousands more Maori and Pasifika children, young people, left without basic NCEA qualifications. So we can be very proud that they are leaving with qualification. Do we want to make sure that they’ve got multiple pathways? In fact I was in Northland last night having that conversation. Yes, we do. And I think if you look at the Digital Fluency package this week, and you look at what people like Pat Snedden are doing in Manaiakalani, we have an opportunity to ensure that young Maori and young Pasifika students have much more diverse pathways, and that’s what this week is also about.
CORIN It’s a poverty issue, though, isn’t it? Those students growing up in lower socio-economic groups are going to suffer from a digital divide, aren’t they? They’re not going to have the same devices; they’re not going to have access to Wi-Fi at home; they’re not going to have access to printers. It’s just going to increase that divide, isn’t it?
NIKKI No, I don’t believe that. Because I think we have an absolute moral responsibility to continue to invest in those young people. If you look in the announcement I made this week, $6 million that are focused on those students that are particularly disadvantaged. What people like Pat Snedden have shown is that by the right investments in terms of connectivity, the right investments around people, these young Maori and young Pasifika students can do incredibly well and be way ahead of a number of their peers, actually.
CORIN One of the other areas of digital is the online learning. Are you absolutely committed to this idea that we let children, effectively, do their entire school career online at home?
NIKKI Well, what we’ve done is we’ve passed enabling legislation for community of online learning providers. I’ve said we’ve got to consult with the sector around that. But what I have also said is I see it more being used in particular subject areas where schools haven’t had access – that school in Invercargill that might want young people to learn Mandarin. I think language is a particular area whereby we want to do better as a country.
CORIN It hasn’t worked very well overseas, has it?
NIKKI It hasn’t worked well overseas in some countries because it hasn’t had the right regulatory framework around it. And the whole conversation of whether they’ll be registered teachers, what support will be around that, how much will be online versus how much might be face time – all of those policy discussions will continue to happen.
CORIN Because the big worry – and can you give an assurance that wouldn’t be some sort of – to coin a horrible phrase – dumping ground for difficult students with behavioural issues that schools don’t want to deal with, and it’s like, ‘Oh, you can just go do it online.’
NIKKI That is absolutely not the intention, because actually, what we’ve learnt with all of the special educational learning support changes is that we need to give those young people more support than ever before, and that won’t be just about them sitting online; it will be about them having a range of other things such as behavioural support, other interventions.
CORIN A couple of questions that came through to us on Facebook for you. One of them is a lot of concern about pay rates for support staff and their money, I guess, coming from a discretionary fund for that the school has, is there just simply not enough money for support staff? And also not a lot of support for them in terms of their employment conditions. They’re very worried.
NIKKI A couple of things – so the support workers and the support staff, they’re different groups – but the support staff, in terms of teacher aides, in the budget, we obviously announced a 1.3% increase.
CORIN And schools have got to fund that, though, don’t they?
NIKKI So we announced a 1.3% increase in terms of operational grants, which is there to assist any pay increases.
CORIN So there’s a pay rise coming for them, but the schools then have to meet that from that extra 1.3%. Is that right?
NIKKI That’s correct. But if you look, over time, we’ve only increased operational grants by about 16%, I think, and the CPI has been 11%. So we do pay negotiations every couple of years.
CORIN They’re not exactly paid megabucks, though, are they?
NIKKI No, they’re not. And the reality is there are pay equity claims that are being discussed. I can’t go into that at the moment because obviously there’s a range of very formal processes around that. But what I can say is we’ve continued through the collective bargaining process to, obviously, increase those wages. But there is a conversation that is occurring.
CORIN So putting the pay equity issue aside, do they need to be paid more?
NIKKI Well, again, we are paying them more. I think the pay equity is an important piece of work because that is going to look at whether there has been systemic discrimination.
CORIN One more question from Facebook – and this is around the Education Council – I guess the body that registers teachers. Chris Hipkins has a private member’s bill which would enable teachers to be able to elect members to that board again. Would you consider supporting that?
NIKKI Look, we’ve said we wouldn’t, and I’ll give you a couple of reasons for it. Yesterday I confirmed that the government is going to transfer $200 million to this body. And so it is different to other professional bodies. It’s going to have responsibility for a large amount of taxpayer funds.
CORIN What, and teachers can’t be trusted to be on the board?
NIKKI Well, I think there needs to be the ability to have some independent people. Obviously there is a process that has previously occurred that covered representatives in terms of those interviews. I’m keen to discuss with the unions how we run that process again.
CORIN What’s wrong with one or two teachers on that board to offer some insight from the coalface?
NIKKI There are educational leaders on the board. The question is – how are they appointed? But from my perspective, I’m keen to continue the discussions with the unions. But what I would say is that this entity is an independent entity, from a statutory perspective, but it’s containing a lot of taxpayer funds, and that’s what Cabinet have agreed. I would say the history hasn’t been… The whole reason we changed it from its existing structure to the Education Council was there wasn’t great things occurring there.
CORIN One last question. The decile system changes. We’ve talked about this a lot over the years on Q+A. Are you brave enough to announce these before the election? Because that’ll be controversial. Some schools will miss out on funding now, won’t they?
NIKKI It depends how you design the system. So the first thing is I expect to give an update before the election. But as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the decile system. I actually completely… I don’t like that fact that schools are labelled as a result of parents’ income. I’ve met many young people who have felt that they’re not good enough as a result of their decile rating, and I think that’s wrong.
CORIN So you’ll put your neck out before the election, and you will say, ‘This is what we will do if re-elected’?
NIKKI Well, again, I can’t get ahead of Cabinet. I’ll definitely give an update on the funding review, but as I’ve said before, if at all possible, if I can work a way through to find something that is suitable to be able to replace it, then I will do that. But I’ve got to work with my Cabinet colleagues around that.
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