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Digital Futures in the Education System

Digital Futures in the Education System: How do we know we are getting it right?

Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, together with Professor Stuart McNaughton, Science Advisor to the Ministry of Education have released a commentary on Digital Futures and Education. Drawing on the available evidence about access to and use of digital technology in schools and out of school, the paper considers both the risks as well as potential benefits for children’s development and learning.

The paper was developed against a backdrop of current trends including the changing nature of and availability of work; our highly connected lives; and growing up in a world where manipulation of ideas and abuse can take on powerful forms through social platforms. These trends affect all aspects of children’s lives including their development as critically aware citizens, their well-being and cognitive development, and their experiences of growing up. For these reasons, the science advisors suggest an evidence-informed approach to the introduction and use of digital technologies.

However there is little evidence that, by itself, suggests that the provision of digital devices in schools consistently increases children’s development in the cognitive or the social skills necessary for well-being and success.

Better monitoring and evaluation as well as more public discussion is needed if we are to promote positive skills at home and at school and the appropriate means to reduce the negative impacts of social media and digital tools, as these become apparent.

The Science Advisors suggest that a comprehensive national approach is needed in preparing and supporting teachers to optimise benefits (and reduce risks) with digital tools. Such an approach could include:
• greater emphasis on areas already present in the New Zealand curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa but for which currently there are variable outcomes and as yet limited understanding of how to develop in digital environments: critical thinking and literacy; self-control; and social skills such as collaboration and empathy;
• rapid research and development of smart digital tools for teaching and learning which make a difference to the time for and quality of teaching; and which contribute to the development of the thinking, self-control and the social skills that children need;
• measures of child development in the areas of critical thinking, self-control and social skills.


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