Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Labour wants computer coding part of school curriculum

Labour's coding policy is in response to growing insecurity of work caused by technological changes.  Photo / Stephen Parker
Labour's coding policy is in response to growing insecurity of work caused by technological changes. Photo / Stephen Parker

Computer coding could become part of the core school curriculum if Labour wins the next election, says its finance spokesman Grant Robertson.

The idea is one of 10 Big Ideas to respond to the growing insecurity of work, released at the opening of a party conference on the future of work in Auckland today.

Other ideas include drivers' licences for all school-leavers, compulsory retraining for the unemployed, abolishing secondary tax rates, trialling a universal basic income in a town or region, and giving selected business clusters special treatment under immigration and competition laws.

Mr Robertson leads a two-year Future of Work Commission which has been gathering ideas since early last year to respond to growing insecurity of work caused by technological changes, globalisation, deunionisation and the abolition of key legal protections for workers.

He said the 10 big ideas were an initial response to what the commission had heard around the country.

"This is the Future of Work Commission working to inform the Labour Party's policy process. It's at that stage," he said.

He said children should learn computer coding, along with the other core subjects of English and math, "as young as possible".

"We'd be talking about it from an early age through, so it becomes core to the way people learn - the ability to do coding, the ability to understand technology, how it works, and also the social and other consequences of technology. It's now a pervasive part of our lives," he said.

"This has generated a lot of feedback, there are mixed views on whether or not this is the right way to go. On balance, we think we do need to work to include it as a core focus."

He acknowledged that teachers would have to be trained first to teach the new subject.

Another big idea is a school-leaver's toolkit ensuring that all teenagers get a chance to get their driver's licence, basic financial literacy and civics, such as learning about how to serve on a jury.

The National Government has already decided to give credits for driver licences in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) from April 1, with two credits at level 1 for a learner licence, four credits at level 2 for a restricted licence and a further two credits at level 2 for a full licence.

Mr Robertson said Labour would go further and make sure every school had the resources to offer driver licence training to all students before they left school.

"That would be one of the strongest pieces of individual feedback we had from employers, particularly in the trades and in rural areas. They want people with a full driver's licence," he said.

The 10 Big Ideas document also includes "a training plan for every worker, and free and mandatory training for those who lose a job to help them develop new skills or retrain to a new profession".

Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson. Photo / Paul Taylor
Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson. Photo / Paul Taylor

Mr Robertson said the document should not have used the word "mandatory" and he preferred the word "automatic".

"We want it to be an automatic part of what happens when people lose jobs that there is further training available to them," he said.

He accepted that not all workers who lost jobs would need retraining.

The document proposes abolishing secondary tax rates, which are the same as primary tax rates ranging from 10.5 per cent on income below $14,000 a year up to 33 per cent above $70,000. Mr Robertson said this change would have minimal effect on state revenue because taxpayers can already claim back any overpayments in their annual tax returns.

It proposes a limited trial of a universal basic income type system in a town or region. Mr Robertson said last week that the party was looking at systems such as one proposed by economist Gareth Morgan that would pay a basic $11,000 a year ($211 a week) to every adult as a safety net for people who lose jobs or can't work.

It also proposes supporting clusters of successful businesses through research grants and "special treatment under other areas of economic, competition, employment, immigration, education, intellectual property and law".

Economic development spokesperson David Clark, a Dunedin MP, said an example could be a cluster of computer games companies in Dunedin who found it difficult under current laws to pick up games workers made redundant in Auckland because their immigration permits specified that they could only work for a particular company that had closed its Auckland operation.

He said immigration law could be changed to give extra points to applicants with job offers from firms in a recognised cluster.

10 Big Ideas

1. Build digital equality through high-speed internet in all areas, free WiFi in libraries and teaching technology and coding skills in schools.

2. Accelerate technology in business through research and development tax credits and funding.

3. Encourage business clusters through research and development grants and special treatment in immigration and other policies.

4. Increase workers' control over their working lives through promoting social and economic entrepreneurship, co-operatives, low-carbon projects and union involvement in key decisions.

5. Stronger support for workers who lose jobs including free and mandatory training and a social partnership between unions, business and government.

6. Greater income security, including a local trial of a universal basic income scheme, abolishing secondary tax and strengthening rights to collective bargaining.

7. Boosting school careers advice and creating a school leaver's toolkit including a driver's licence, financial literacy and civics.

8. Three years of free tertiary education from 2025 (already announced).

9. Partnership with iwi to develop the Maori economy.

10. Programmes to help Pacific youth transition from school through training into work.

- NZ Herald

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