Imagine if we could ensure young New Zealanders were the most digitally literate in the world and had opportunities to be more innovative and better compete in a modern economy.
Every day teachers and students are solving problems and creating new ways of doing things in our classrooms and online. One Kiwi science teacher asked his students to find a way to analyse data in less than the 48 hours it was taking a local blood centre. A student developed a method that took just 50 minutes.
There are many innovators in our education system. With the right policies we can have more student and educator innovators and can better connect them. We can aim to ensure all young Kiwis gain skills that are relevant now, such as digital literacy. Our education system is already seen as innovative and world-leading with features such as the New Zealand Qualifications Framework and The New Zealand Curriculum. We need to continue to build on this success.
The past decade has already seen massive changes in our classrooms. The idea that a teacher will stand at the front of a class delivering content for hours a day is outdated. Most classrooms will involve a range of different teaching methods and tools. There are already many pockets of innovation from projects like the Nelson loop, to progressive teachers developing new learning applications.
Increasingly, we are seeing a blended learning approach combining face-to-face classroom methods with computer-mediated activities. This is not about children spending their day online, but it is about greater access to online learning to improve knowledge, skills and understanding.
Spend any time with young people and you will appreciate how adept many of them are with technology, even from pre-school age. They have fast access to knowledge using sometimes the smallest piece of technology. Young people have more opportunities to drive their own learning, adopting what they are interested in and filtering out what they are not. Clarifying what may be 21st century skills such as digital literacy is important. This could include using and developing critical thinking skills in cyberspace and using technologies to participate in educational, cultural, and economic activities.
Our Government has invested significantly in ensuring New Zealand school children have access to the best, most innovative 21st century learning opportunities. This includes more than $200 million connecting schools to ultra-fast broadband. The plan is to ensure schools will be connected to fibre or an alternative technology by 2016. We are nearly halfway there with more than 1200 schools connected.
We have also announced plans to deliver more than $300 million in the Network for Learning initiative. This is about ensuring schools have access to affordable, safe, reliable, ultra-fast connectivity, content and services. One feature of Network for Learning is to enable schools, students and teachers to be more connected to each other to better share ideas and best practice. This is combined with a $1 billion commitment to invest in more modern school environments.
New Zealand faces the challenge of how to maximise the potential of technologies for teaching and learning. We have a small population and a relatively small number of schools (around 2500) so we can move quickly to deliver infrastructure and new ways of thinking and doing. We can lead the world.
Last year, I called for a Parliamentary Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy - the way digital technology is changing teaching and learning. It doesn't need to be confined to schools, of course, any changes will benefit our wider education system. Behind this inquiry was a belief that we need to ensure we have not just invested in technology for the sake of it. We also need to focus on research, professional development and the new ways children are learning and teachers are teaching. Principals and teachers must be equipped to meet the demands and needs of learners that technology will inevitably create. After eight months of deliberations, the Education and Science select committee produced a report with 48 recommendations that had cross-party support. The Government will respond to this in the coming months.
Adopting the right approach to 21st century learning will require change across the education sector. It is important to recognise that much of this change is being driven by students themselves, who are thirsty to learn online through new applications, tools and content. There needs to be government and sector-wide leadership to develop and promote a vision that ensures technologies are used to improve student achievement and provide greater learning opportunities. There are challenging public policy issues we will need to consider such as access to devices, professional development, potential intellectual property issues, the changing role of a teacher, cyber bullying and developing more connected and flexible learning environments.
We could better assist students via technology to remove some traditional equity issues such as distance and lower incomes. This could include broadcasting a specialist teacher to a small rural school or providing children with access to online libraries after school hours.
Though there are challenges there are also huge opportunities from an economic and social perspective. We will need to be innovative in our thinking in the home and classroom to realise these opportunities.
Nikki Kaye MP is Associate Education Minister