• Wyatt Creech

Plaza International Hotel, Wakefield St


Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today about the important place the use of information technology has, and increasingly will have, in the education of our young people. It is an important subject, one we will increasingly focus on over the coming year.

I want to discuss how IT is being promoted in schools and give you some information on the Qualifications Framework.

I am a continual user of IT myself. I am also a regular critic of bad behaviour in Parliament - though I have to admit that I sometimes find the bad behaviour of my laptop even more frustrating than that of Members in the House. Maybe it's something about the air, but the machine often resolutely refuses to dial in from outside, or perform other odd tasks, despite the best efforts of Parliament's IT help team.

I'm pleased to report that Parliament has now moved more firmly into the IT age; laptop computers are allowed in the Chamber as long as they are unobtrusive. Members of course don't use them for playing games! The Government's goal, stated in the Coalition Agreement, is for New Zealand to "become one of the most highly skilled nations in the world". To give effect to that we need as a nation to really value education.

The recent report showing that in science we were just holding our own and our maths skills are below the international norm concerns me. So often when things are not as we would like them to be in education we blame the Government.

And sure, we have to accept that our efforts must improve, but we alone cannot do it. That same report on our maths and science skills also showed our children to be very big TV watchers and not so hot homework doers. That is not something the Government controls; that is a product of our homes.

And we need to see that schools themselves and the teaching profession does its bit to address the problem. And address it we must. We live in an age when intellectual skills will increasingly drive living standards. Without intellectual skills, we will not be able to enjoy the enjoy the high living standards we want to.

Your industry must play a part. In fact, I see doing so as in your own enlightened self interest. In order to earn profits you need employees with the right high-level skills. They will come from our schools.

As part of that effort, we have to give all young people the opportunity to develop a range of skills, including familiarity with IT.

The Government recognises the need for continued and sustained support for this field in the education of New Zealand students. Students need to develop the essential skills for participation in the ``information society''. Without them they won't be able to find the on-ramp of the much-vaunted 'information highway': they'll be stuck in the side road of old skills and thinking.

That would have potentially serious, long-term education, labour market and social costs. For example (as I'm sure you're aware) 80% of new jobs in the United States last year were in information-intensive sectors of the economy.

We need to prepare our young people to compete in a world where technology is ever-changing.

The Ministry has made explicit in a number of curriculum documents the greater need for information technology education and training. The National Education Guidelines contain a series of ten national goals which all schools must work towards. Goal number 3 states that ``development of the knowledge, understanding and skills needed by New Zealanders to compete successfully in the modern, ever-changing world'' is paramount.

The skills that students, and primarily teachers, must acquire to achieve that goal include new information technology skills.

The National Education Guidelines require schools to work towards a ``broad education through a balanced curriculum covering the essential learning areas, with high levels of competence in basic literacy and numeracy, science and technology.'' In the New Zealand Curriculum Framework, the document that provides the foundation for learning programmes for the 1990s and beyond, Information Skills are one of the essential skills to be developed with all students.

Further support for information technology comes in the new Technology Curriculum, and in professional development programmes to help teachers put it into practice effectively. In fact, this evening I am speaking at the launch of a new support package to assist schools in teaching the Technology Curriculum Early-morning television programmes support the technology curriculum. You may have caught eTV's recent re-screening of the Know How 1 series. This will be followed by - no prizes for guessing! - Know How 2, a new series of 8 programmes which will screen from 10 July. These are a useful resource for teachers, showing a range of student learning situations and current teaching best practice. They also give other viewers an opportunity to see what's happening in technology education.

Access to a range of information technologies, including computers, plus a motivated teacher, can enhance student learning right across the curriculum.

I think attitudes to teaching in this information age need to change as well.

The idea of a brave new world of quiet and passive students learning unaided in front of a computer was never really on. Students still need to react and interact with a skilled practitioner - a teacher, we used to call them - to provide pathways and initiatives for learning.

Since 1989, the most significant direct Government involvement in information technology has been in the professional development and training of teachers.

Between 1992 and 1996 we spent about $8m on teacher professional development specifically in the IT area. To date 8,500 teachers have been involved in these programmes. They aimed at whole school development, not just teachers, but involving Boards, principals, and the school's community.

Some preliminary exciting results are starting to come through in our schools.

Thousands of students throughout New Zealand recently followed the "Polar Free" expedition to the North Pole. Through a Telecom-sponsored programme they exchanged faxes, e-mails and Internet information with the explorers trekking their way across the Arctic Circle.

Port Chalmers School encouraged their kids to E-mail Antarctica, the States and Norway to get information for a weather project. Students at Oxford Area School can design clothes with a computer and a plotter. Southland Boys High School made a video to support the use of the school library. Porirua School developed a policy of buying the best quality and experimented with multi-media packages. Secondary Schools in the Dunedin area developed school home pages and CD Roms on a variety of topics.

Schools can access other help from School Support Services and Advisers to design strategic IT plans for schools.

ITANZ, I know, has been active in this area also. You've assisted the Auckland College of Education to improve IT literacy by funding a consulting study to access their IT training programme.

The 'virtual class' is another way of opening up a wider range of teaching experiences for today's pupils. Although the classroom is ``virtual'', the students and teachers are real enough. One of the major problems facing smaller schools is that their lower number of teachers can't be expected to be expert in a wide range of specialist areas. Distance learning technologies supplement classroom teaching so schools can better meet students' individual learning needs and interests. It helps student motivation immensely. Rural schools in particular find that children who would otherwise have to move off to cities or study by correspondence are able to stay on at their school.

TOSItech is another example of distance learning. It's a consortium of seven schools in the South Island who are using telecommunications links to join up and provide students with courses that used to be available only through the Correspondence School. Now a specialist teacher in one school can deliver that subject to others in the group.

Oxford Area School in Canterbury was one of the first I knew of to use distance technology. I have visited there and seen the many ways they enhance learning opportunities. Students there can link to a polytechnic based in Christchurch, for instance, to study subjects like automotive engineering.

The SchoolsNet project in 1992 pioneered on-line student-based learning and teacher resource aids, and provided access to activities and forums. The SchoolsNet has now been converted to a Web site, and the 500 or so original schools in the pilot can now be joined by any others with access to the Internet. I was reading just yesterday about the number of schools using this Website to take part in the 'Share Market Clash' activity.

This is progress. I hope a range of NZ organisations help to develop and maintain home-grown content. Teachers need more material and guidance for integrating content into the curriculum and the new World Wide Web service aims to address this.

Another stumbling block of course is the cost of accessing the Internet, especially for isolated rural schools. My hope is that the telecommunications industry can look at ways of adjusting pricing structures to assist disadvantaged areas. Certainly it is recognised that most students introduced to it in class go on to demand access at home. So an increased partnership can be beneficial to both parties! Information technologies are leading to considerable changes in the traditional relationship between teacher and student. Teachers have traditionally acted as a 'mediator' between a student and access to learning materials.

Students now have direct access to a huge range of information through the Internet and this can only increase. By 1998 it is expected that 98% of secondary schools and 84% of primary schools will have the Internet.

But as there is no differentiation on the Internet between high-quality and trash, it is essential that young people accessing all this information are able to critically evaluate it. Teachers have a vital role in assisting students to refine their analytical and evaluation skills. And students need a sound ethical basis on which to make judgements.

The good news is that a recent report on the impact of computers in senior secondary classrooms showed that both teachers and students felt there were long-term benefits. Both groups said they gained valuable skills.

Interestingly, the use of computers also helped change classroom dynamics.

Classes became less formal and more student-centred; students were more motivated, and co-operative learning and peer-tutoring increased.

Clearly IT has a lot to offer education.

Another subject that concerns all educators enormously - I know you have a special interest in this because you are considering forming a computing ITO - is the Qualifications Framework.

We have just released a Green Paper on qualifications policy and the National Qualifications Famework. The Green Paper outlines current Government thinking in this area and proposals for the future. We are now consulting widely.

Submissions are welcome. We go into the process with an open mind, and will carefully consider the submissions. It's important that we develop a system of qualifications for New Zealand that's durable and credible to students, parents and employers and acceptable to teachers.

The qualifications debate has not been noted for moderate opinions! Not only are the divisions wide, they are often unreasonably dismissive of all opinions other than their own. Some clearly believe that all student progress should be assessed using the unit standard format - that there is no place for examinations any more. Others who hold the reverse view believe that only a rigorous exam will truly test young people in the environment they will later have to succeed in.

It's easy amidst the debate to lose sight of who and what qualifications are actually for. They are there to offer real opportunity for all students to demonstrate knowledge.

Quality assurance is the primary key.

The qualifications policy for the years ahead must be inclusive. In spite of what some at the extremes in this debate claim, there is nothing magic about a particular form of assessment. What is needed for qualifications to be valuable is quality, credibility and durability. If they meet that test, we should respect them. Clear statements of outcome are there to tell us what a particular qualification covers and how it relates to other qualifications.

That is the framework.

Under our policy, the drive and motivation for industry training lies with industry. They know their own needs.

The unit standard format approach has not been universally accepted. As a recent letter from a physics teacher in Wanganui put it to me: "there are few generalities that can be applied to unit standards. For example the (quote) 'promotion of excellence and industry' is certainly true for the skills-based subject that electronics is. However, it is equally untrue for the conceptual and problem-solving subject that physics is". Sometimes I wish those at the extreme end of this debate, and there are some of those in ITOs, would hear that frequent rejoinder.

Currently university degrees, many polytechnic qualifications and national school exams are not registered on the Framework. This makes it the antithesis of the 'comprehensive framework' we seek. Ideally all qualifications should be registered. How this could be done is discussed widely in the green paper. So are the ways we might recognise excellence in unit standards. The absence of recognition of merit and excellence has been another frequent criticism of that approach.

If your organisation decides to go down the ITO track you will be part of the successful Skill New Zealand strategy that has increased both the range of training available and the numbers of people in training - expected to reach 45,000 by the end of this year.

While industry needs may differ from those of schools, working together can be beneficial. Your own organisation has been very active in education in a number of ways, including wide consultation. I've already mentioned Telecom support - I know many of your other members contribute significantly to schools.

The electro-technology ITO is another that has been extremely supportive of schools in developing materials and kits. They have been a positive influence, and have also managed to turn a lot of kids onto electrical engineering! The Dairying industry, among others, has seen that success and is also making moves into schools. This is the sort of cooperative alliance that I find exciting and hope to see more of in the future.

How Government can help provide greater access to information technology in schools in the future continues to be considered.

The number of computers in schools has risen dramatically in the last five years but we recognise that more must be done. The current ratio levels have reached 1 computer for every 10 secondary students and 1 computer for every 19 primary students. New Zealanders take up new technology fast - just look at the growth of eftpos and cellphones - and the thirst for this new technology can be fostered in schools.

I received a letter recently which suggested that 'the year 2000 Problem' - which I imagine is already giving some of you a few sleepless nights - provides a unique opportunity for a business and school partnership. Many businesses will need to upgrade their systems - my correspondent suggests that these businesses could recycle their old machines to schools, who can make good use of the technology no longer needed by business. Schools are largely unaffected by the year 2000 problem. I commend the idea to you - perhaps you could explore it further with your local schools.

We are all working to improve the future - working together will improve opportunities for New Zealand's young people.

As Lyndon Johnson - perhaps surprisingly to some of us once said: " Education is not just a luxury permitting some an advantage over others. It is a necessity, without which a person is defenceless in this complex society." Thank You for your support of Education. I wish you all the best for the future.