Review of 'Digital Horizons - Learning through ICT'

written Aug 2003 being revised May 2006


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ContentsIntroductionBasicIntermediateAdvancedFuturePolicyInfrastructure
Digital Horizons - Learning through ICT is the revised ICT Strategy Plan for the Education System.

This policy document has basic policy goals which are then expanded into further policies and suggestions for initiative. However there is not a single hard figure in the document except for the number of school cluster programs. This one statistic is excellent, but the presence of quasi-statistics such as "A three-year research project to assess the results of the previous strategy will report in 2002. The evidence emerging shows that: more teachers are using ICT more often - there are significant gains in teachers' competence and confidence with ICT and they are using ICT more often for teaching and learning and for administration" are cause for concern. One would certainly hope there has been a gain, but there is no quantification. So we dont know if we are actually making progress toward any goal. The strategies do not put in place any quantifiable measures of whether any of the goals in the document, or any other goals for that matter, are being met. For instance there is no commitment to complete the ICT course for principals of which only half have attended. Teachers are to be supported in buying laptops, but there is no commitment to ensure them to support ICT in their classroom.

This is an important document and it is important to examine it carefully. There are 7 key goals and each one together with its associated strategies is discussed below. But before that it is worth looking at the goals as a group. Here is the table of goals reproduced (Aug 2003) from the report (Feb 2003). Please check the report itself for any later alterations to what is here.

Key Action Areas

Goals

Strategies

Learners

Learners have systematic opportunities to develop digital and information literacy, and enjoy using ICT creatively, constructively and critically in extending their horizons and growing as lifelong learners.

The strategies outlined in this document focus on:

  • fostering a deeper understanding of the role of ICT in developing the essential skills of the curriculum, especially higher-order thinking and information skills
  • extending the capability of teachers and school leaders through cluster-based and online professional development activities
  • creating a culture of collaboration and facilitating the sharing of best practice through school clusters and online communities of interest
  • building partnerships between schools, government, communities and business
  • developing and delivering quality online learning resources, and enhancing the effectiveness

Teachers

Teachers become confident and capable users of ICT, use ICT to support their professional growth and administration, and integrate ICT flexibly and effectively within the curriculum to enhance learners' knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Leaders

Leaders (principals, boards of trustees, ICT and information managers) enable staff to use ICT to explore innovative practice, lead whole-school change, and promote and use ICT to model best practice.

Mäori

Mäori students enjoy using ICT to embrace tikanga and te reo Mäori, to access Mäori medium education, and to participate fully and experience success in learning.

Families, Communities, Businesses,
and other Stakeholders

Schools work in partnership with families, businesses and the wider community to share knowledge about ICT and extend opportunities for learning through ICT.

Curriculum
and Learning Resources

Schools have ready access through ICT to a wide and well-focused range of learning resources that are selected, organised, and managed to be responsive to their needs and relevant to the curriculum.

Infrastructure

Schools are able to access reliable, sustainable, efficient, and appropriate ICT equipment, systems and services that meet their current and emerging needs.

As you can see, these goals are phrased as statements of wishful thinking. There is a phrase missing from the beginning of each goal. The missing phrase could be "The MoE will seek to ensure that ...". These are the MoE's own goals, yet they presume a lot about others, especially teachers and Maori students, without committing the MoE. The missing phrase could equally be "If Allah wills ...". We see here a continuance of laisse-faire policy implementation and soft poli-speak, in a period in which the MoE has been accused of brow-beating the teaching establishment. The missing phrase lies somewhere between these two extremes, but we dont know where, so it is unclear just how committed the MoE is to these goals, and what hoops it will jump to acheive them or whether it expects everyone else to jump the hoops to achieve its goals. A clearer statement of commitment by the MoE would have been helpful. The fact that it is missing implies that things are being left unsaid and that soft-peddling is going on. The details of this reveal themselves later in the document.

Learners Learners have systematic opportunities to develop digital and information literacy, and enjoy using ICT creatively, constructively and critically in extending their horizons and growing as lifelong learners.
This is a laudable goal. It is necessary if NZ is to be considered a developed nation. However the word systemic is of great interest. Systemic means that the education system as a whole must provide these opportunities. This means every school, from some level not specified on upwards into tertiary levels. That the opportunities must be systematically geared to support movement from one school to another and in progress from one school level to the next.

Systematic applies also to the advancement of comp-literacy in the students period at school. In other words that lessons are followed by opportunities for application, and that advancement to another level proceeds in due order.

Systematic can also be applied to the way ICT is used in the classroom. i.e. that students have the skills to do manage classwork in computer media. As opposed to the problem of a student without ICT skills enetering a school with strong ICT in the classroom or vice versa.

All these features of the word systematic require a strong structured direction from the top to keep everything in synch. The strategies do not mention any move to provide this direction.

While the stragies do work towards the goal if the word systematic is taken out, they fall far short of addressing the goal as it is written. It is as though the word systematic has been conveniently forgotten, or its meaning has, or why it might have been included in the goal in the first place. Systematic is a necessary word in the goal, and the cosideration of the paragraphs above make it clear how wrong things can go if it is not taken on board.

Teachers

Teachers become confident and capable users of ICT, use ICT to support their professional growth and administration, and integrate ICT flexibly and effectively within the curriculum to enhance learners' knowledge, skills and attitudes.

This goal is also an admirable goal, but couched in wishful terms. The strategies do not suggest a commitment by the MoE for this to happen. Indeed, the strategies for teachers make disturbing reading. There is 'support' for professional development, but no commitment to acheive it. There is a strategy to expand collegial support, and to strengthen access to ICT resources. The only solid item here is to "ensure pre-service teacher graduates are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to use ICT effectively for teaching and learning; " . This intimates that it is fruitless to expect teachers in general to learn about ICT and bring it into the classroom. There is just too much resistance. All we can do is be thankful that there are teachers who are doing this and leave it at that. This means that the government is relying on new trainee teachers to bring ICT to NZ's schools in the long-term. But the teacher trainees go overseas, and our population of teachers in NZ gets older and more uninformed by the year. This is a serious situation which will further widen the gap between schools with ICT and those without.

This will serve to create a digital divide between schools where ICT is fostered at the school level, and schools where it is not and where ICT illiterate teachers can continue to be employed.

Teacher trainees have been taught ICT use and application for some years now. But problems arise when these teachers reach the coalface. The technology they have been taught to use may not be there, it may not function properly, its function may be inhibited by management restrictions, or the technology may have changed or be so different that the teachers do not know how to use it.

The first three of these problems can be fixed by better governence and management. But computer technology is going to be changing rapidly in the forseeable future and the only way to overcome the problem is to teach trainees the principles of ICT rather than the technology. So what is happening in teacher training institutions? Saying that teachers trainees are being taught ICT as a strategy to achieve the above goal is not good enough. Teacher trainees must be taught ICT in such a way that the goal can be seen to be achieved.

What is the scale of this problem.

TKI usage statistics for 2001 year show that 40% of teachers claimed not to know TKI even existed. 60% had never accessed TKI. This compares well with the 50% of school principles who did not attend ICT training courses for principals. In addition to this 20% of teachers accessed TKI to source teaching materials often - this is 8% of teachers. 54% of teachers sourced teaching materials sometimes - this is 22%. The sum of these, 30%, had not changed significantly from 2000, though the total number of teachers accessing these resources rose because only 35% of teachers accessed TKI in 2000. These figures are stagnant by net standards and indicate a problem ( the TKI problem).

But first problems first. The 50% or so of teachers who are remaining tech illiterate make the teacher goal impossible. they also make the learners goal impossible because they obstruct the provision of "systemic opprtunities". However, at 50% these teachers carry weight in their union and enable the union to countermand any demands by the MoE for change. This is why the MoE cannot commit to echieving the teacher goal and also has difficulty commiting to the learner goal. It starts to explain why these goals have been so softly couched.

If NZ is to remain in the developed world it has to do better than other countries because its smallness, lack of natural resources and its isolation weigh against it. So NZ education must become systematically ICT literate. It is also good for the economy. Education could become NZ's 2nd biggest export earner after tourism by 2012, earning in excess of $8 billion. Every dollar spent productively in the education sector today will reap rewards for years to come. In the 1970's NZ was faced with a similar stand-off at the wharves. The unions were stymying attempts to introduce container technology which NZ needed to move to in order to continue to export its primary produce. A backdoor technique was used. Just one container crane was introduced, though every port in the country vied to host it. Once installed it became the focus, and it undermined other ports and their workforce and also undermined the unions sufficiently to allow a second crane to be installed at a second port. This process of carefully placing state-of-the-art technology in a position where it would most effecvtively undermined opposition worked. Now all ports in NZ have as many container cranes as they want and the unions power to block new technology was swept away.

A similar tactic can be taken in the education industry. Chose a site with the highest demographics and build a state-of-the-art school and staff it under special employment agreements. This school may have a quite different regimen to current schools. It may operate 8am to 9pm 6 or 7 days a week. Sport activites may be entirely integrated into the school regimen - no unpaid afterhours sports. The school's student intake will be highly selective and staff will be highly qualified with a proven track record.

This school will be expensive to build and to run. However it will have a strong proportion of FFPS. One of its functions will be as export earner. However its invisible benefits in the long term are more important.

However this school will not work unless it has the sophisticated management tools required to make it work well. These tools have to be built from scratch and will be expensive ( $10m to $20m ) to create. It will take several years to build them. In fact it will take much longer to build these management tools than it will to design and build the school. It will also cost a good $10m per year to maintain this software, but the same software will also be used by all new schools. The timeframe for developing this software is critical to the whole strategy. Recently Glenn Innes Intermediate was closed with a view to building a new school with full ICT integration. This news fits this strategy nicely, but the apparent lack of movement on building management tools is not a good sign.

To return to the TKI problem. TKI is setup as a basket into which teachers put things and take them out. The wonderful thing is that no matter how much you take out of the basket, the basket never empties. However the stuff in the basket can get to be old, stale, and all too familiar. We have to keep putting fresh stuff into it all the time and get rid of the stuff that is old and stale. TKI has about 4000 regular users of its resources. Many of these are passive users and the group of active contributors to the basket is very small. These active contributors have huge pressures on their time and do not have the luxury of spending their time filling TKI. The result is that TKI is not being filled with the amount or type of resource to keep it fresh and useful to its current user base. New users coming to TKI will find it new and fresh for a year or so. Older users will start to look elsewhere if TKI is not being constantly filled with good new stuff. TKI could suffer from death due to lack of interest in a couple of years if this situation is not addressed. Older users will tap into better managed resource pools in overseas sites and abandon TKI if TKI is not kept freshly stocked.

Do we need TKI ? Yes we do. We need an education resource pool that is oriented to NZ attitudes, conditions and values, just as we need our own foreign policy rather than rely on Australia's, England's or the USA's foreign policy.

To remedy this, active contributors to TKI should be paid and be allowed to dedicate time to this activity as part of their working week. Schools should allow them dedicated time for this function. The MoE could pay an allowance to schools or to the teachers for the dedicated time they spend on this activity.

Leaders

Leaders (principals, boards of trustees, ICT and information managers) enable staff to use ICT to explore innovative practice, lead whole-school change, and promote and use ICT to model best practice.

Leadership with respect to ICT in the school operates at several levels.

  1. Maintaining a safe and functional environment for ICT in the school
  2. In delivering the ICT curriculum, that is teaching ICT literacy.
  3. In integrating ICT in the classroom.
  4. In making innovative use of ICT in administration.
The first requires awareness of issues regarding the setup of hardware systems, networking, guidelines on teacher and student access to the copumters. The is the type of material covered in courses already provided to Principles.

The second requires a knowledge of the concepts behind ICT in order to express these in the curriculum. How much ICT should teachers have in their curriculum at each level. There will be pressure from ICT literate staff, students and parents to teach more ICT in the classroom. But there are issues of follow up through the curriculum that need to be managed. Should you allow relational database to be taught at year 7. At some schools it is, but at others it may not be appropriate. Principals need to know enough about ICT concepts to be able to manage these issues.

The third requires leadership of a major change in the way that the school operates. In order for ICT to work at a school level, a large amount of ICT integrated managemebnt must happen. Resource allocation must be smooth and efficient. ICt infused activities must be planned and coordinated. In a sense a whole second level of management isues are introduced. In stead of doing any old project, we try to do projects with innovative use of ICT, for which resources are available at the times athey are required.

To lead such a change the principal has to be well-informed of what is involved in this process and have a practical hands-on understnading of the issues, even if not in the classroom.

The fourth level requires a good deal of information about ICT itself, computer systems, databases, applications and so on. This is because the principal is relying on these to perform important functions in the school, for which the principal has personal responsibility.

Are we organised to train principals at these four levels. Half of principals have been trained at level 1. What is the assessment of pricipals current knowledge at these four levels and are the real limits that we can expect to realise with principal PD?

Do we allow the highly tech-literate schools to romp into level 4, while 20% are not coping with level 1 ? There is huge scope for disparity to development in the school system here.

Teachers may come and go, but the principal to a large extent determines the ethos of the school. What can happen in the school will be determined by the principal's level of understanding. So this will be the key to the disparity that develops between schools in the next 5 years.

While the strategys listed address the issues, there is no impression that these are to be pursued vigourously enough to prevent increased disparity between schools.

Goal

Mäori students enjoy using ICT to embrace tikanga and te reo Mäori, to access Mäori medium education, and to participate fully and experience success in learning.

The strategies pertaining to Mäori appear to be especially naive. They appear to be restatements of general strategies but with "catch-up" emphasis. These miss the point with regard to the real problems inherent in ICT with respect to Mäori education.

The web is a wonderful resource for accessing information from all over the world. Except in the strict context of Mäori there is benefit. There are no Mäori resoures on the web other than those that NZ puts there itself. The features that make the web desirable do not support Mäori.

This means it is a mistake to assume that Mäori can derive the same or indeed any benefits from ICT. Many Mäori understand this, it is not simply retro-attitude. They look to traditional education techniques, and this is appropriate in their case. However, depending on how closed this environment is, students will miss out on the ICT they do need to be participants in NZ's future.

One way to address this issue is to create a Mäori web and equivalent ICT culture. This will be a hugely expensive program and require Mäori teachers and leaders to embrace ICT at a level far higher than other teachers. Other teachers can rely on other peoples websites, server systems , databases and so on, but Mäori will have to be experts in every aspect of ICT infra structure to pursue this project.

If we add to this the aspect of Pasifika, which features many languages and cultures, we see that what is required is an openly designed framework which each culture can pick up and adapt. One way to do this is to build an open source system framework which can then be localised and populated by each ethnicity. Such a project would require a top management design structure, inevitably the MoE. But does the MoE have the skills to design such a system. Its skills are improving in large steps, but TKI indicates that MoE has a long way to go before it has the skills to design and manage this ongoing project. This may well have to be contracted out - but to whom? Non-Mäori ? If race politics defers such a project then the disparity which Mäori currently experience in education will widen.

Goal

Schools work in partnership with families, businesses and the wider community to share knowledge about ICT and extend opportunities for learning through ICT.

The word "share" here hides the fact that what is really happening here is a powerful dynamic of shove and pull. Parents shoving at schools to provide the kind of education that corresponds to their childrens computer profficiency at home. Employers pulling at schools to produce school leavers who can go to jobs as shop assistants that know how to fill orders off the computer e-store and access the inventory database for phone enquiries. Is the average school in a position to even respond to these demands ?

In the absence of a response both these parties will look to alternatives. But their response will be determined mainly by what students do by themselves. The internet will gradually populate with solutions to this issue directed at students and their parents as self-help systems. These will be highly effective agents for education, leveraging off the basic skills that students have so far learned. Students and parents will be able to read about cognitive development on websites addressed to their agegroup, and they will be able to track developmental education process. They will also be able to see the degree to which their needs are (not) being met at school. They will be able to access projects which delevop higher order thinking skills in a systematic way. And they will discover websites dedicated to leveraging student education.

Some of the key sponsors of these projects will be large foreign or multinational companies seeking highly skilled job leavers. It is cheaper to train these students by writing a web system and selecting those students who take advantage of it, than it is to recruit candidates and train them on the job. These same companies headhunt college graduates in the US. Of course such people will be offered jobs overseas, contributing to NZ's brain drain.

This is just one scenario of what can develop over the next 10 years. Here is another. If braodband increases, and remote learning proves to be successful, education may become a multinational industry that no longer respects national boundaries.

So the big question is Is the MoE determined to meet community demands for the quality of education it expects to be delivered in a timely and professional manner ? The answer to this question is "The MoE does not deliver education, you are asking the wrong people."

This means that we must reduce the question to something more particular. If parents address the school with their demands will the school be in a position to meet those demands in a timely and professional manner? We are not talking paper tigers here. We are talking about parents making real choices about their childrens mode of education in a few years time. The school is placed on the spot but can probably do nothing without MoE support. So the issue does come back to the MoE. Now we can restate the first question.

At some time the MoE must bite this bullet and make some kind of strategic policy decision to underpin the NZ education system, or to let it fragment.

We can see this process already underway with parents pulling their children from certain schools. At present parents have no real option but to send their children to another school. So the system is not threatened. In 5-8 years time this situation will be changing.

Goal

Learners have ready access through ICT to a wide and well-focused range of learning resources that are selected, organised, and managed to be responsive to their needs and relevant to the curriculum.

This goal may well be met somehow, but not as the MoE might envisage. Providing educational resource will be come a multinational industry. The net provides a cheap means for specialist resources to be published worldwide and to be readily searched and accessible. Copying of this resource is not such a great impediment to this development as many like to think as teachers are already known to be the greatest copyright infringers of al time. Education resource on the web will tend to be interactive, so that copying is not productive. Schools will simply subscribe to one or other multinational curriculum resource service. Is the MoE going to provide one such service? This does not appear to be the case. The MoE is prepared to devolve this to Australian interests.

The keywords in the goal are ready. This means that the resource is clearly either extant or non-existent. One can see quickly whether resource on the topic ones wants, at a specific curriculum and skill level exists, and if it does where it is and how to access it. The strategies do not meet the meaning of the word ready. For the word ready to be met a one-stop directory of resources, tagged with full unit specification details with regard to curriculum targets, skill levels, other resources required, time scale and other constraint and putcome factors must be constructed.

It is all very well to collect unit resources and but them in a basket, and to link in whatever 3rd party resources are also offered, but you end up with grandma's knitting basket on a monstrous scale, which is no use to anyone.

The next word is wide. This word is actually a goal failure. It falls short of words that should be used such as fullor comprehensive or complete. It in effect says: "We dont care if teachers attempt to find resources and come away empty handed. We are prepared to live with a system that does not meet teachers needs." International edacational resource companies will seek to provide full coverage of curriculum areas so that their clients will never feel the need to go elsewhere. Teachers do not need a resource system that only ever works sometime. Children will live with it because they are used to eating crumbs.

The next adjective well-focussed has already been touched on. A standard for describing the focus of a unit resource must be established nationally and the focus related directly to the curriculum achievement goals. We cannot rely on Australian standards to provide this unless we use an Australian curriculum.

Selected, organised and managed are good functions, but what does the phrase to be responsive to their (learners) needs really mean ? Does this mean that when a learner wants something, s/he knows exactly where to look for it, will be able to find it, use it, and it will be good ? There are no systems in place that go anywhere near to meeting this goal, nor to the stategies really address this. As they stand the strategies express a committment to assemble a grab-bag of goodies. You have to read the whole resource before you can decide if it is what you are looking for. This wastes an enourmous amount of teacher time. At present the basket is virtually empty. It does not take too long to realise it doesnt have what you want. But as it fills, its failure to produce the goods will get more and more costly. teachers will simply cease to use it unless it can be relied on to provide almost full coverage, and detailed computer search engine access.

Goal

Schools are able to access reliable, sustainable, efficient and appropriate ICT equipment, systems and services that meet their current and emerging needs.

In regard to this goal, the MoE needs to do some careful quality monitoring. The move to install MSWindows machines in many schools in addition to Macs already in place has to be questioned as to "reliable, efficient, and appropriate". Proper accounting is not being done on computer purchase. The life costs of a computer are not being considered when equipment is being bought. In particular the cost of managing mixed systems involving MSWindows machines. "Oh the techie will manage that" is not a good enough attitude. The techie will cost more than the computers over the lifetime of the computers but is discounted in the purchasing decision. This attack of blindness has occurred recently and indicates that MoE stategies are not focused on this goal at all.

Schools cannot be blamed for buying what they are told they ought to buy. If they are presented with proper life-term accounting costs they can be advised of why they maybe should not buy what they are told they ought to buy. There appears to be a missing link in providing sound advice on ICT systems to schools.

The phrase current and emerging needs also needs to be examined carefully. It does not appear that this has been done recently. Teachers say "But we need to teach the kids Excell". But excell is only one of a generic group of spreadsheet programs which are all based on the same principles. The fact that Excell is the most used is one reason to use it in school, but not a determining reason. An old computer running Lotus can be used to teach the principles of spreadsheet. The need to have the latest software is born more from teachers fellings of impotence, because they do not understand the principles themselves and can only teach monkey-see monkey-do. This is of no use to students who will be using a new generation of hardware and software when they enter the workforce.

Because most ICT teaching is technology based rather than principles based, students are taught how to use a particular program, monkey see, monkey do. The principles of a spreadsheet may be explained secondary. This is one way of teaching, but it does not create the "better learners" - the principle aim of the MoE. Lifelong learners learn principles first and how to apply them in given situations second. They use the model that is used in the chemistry lab rather than the technology model.

Summary

In discussing these goals, a picture has been built up. It consists of a digital divide developing between schools caused by: Can we quantify this ? Here is a very crude stab. 50% of schools have a principal who is not motivated toward ICT innovation in the school (based on Principals Course Attendance ). Of the other 50% we could use the 80-20 rule to say that 40% of schools will be able to teach ICT literacy to a level which meets the wider communities expectations. 10% of schools will be able to integrate ICT techniques into the curriculum and use innovative management techniques.

Figures for teachers would appear to mirror this breakdown.

What this means is that only 50% of school leavers will be educated enough in ICT to be considered employable. This is a highly prejudicial statement because there are thousands of jobs for which ICT education is not required. But just what are these jobs and how many of them are there ? Already NZ has too many unskilled labourers. Does the spectre of an unbreachable gulf really loom. If it does it could change NZ society and turn it into a Orwellian World. There appear to be forces at work in our society that could push us in that direction. I can understand anyone saying - "oh that is just the author's nightmare scenario". But if NZ is looking to education as a major export industry, it cannot afford to get this wrong and it should research these factors carefully.

Another factor tied into the hope that education becomes a major export sector, is the fact that the net knows no world boundaries. NZ education sector can be infiltrated by international interests. But at the same time, NZ could operate education worldwide. Current focus is on overseas students coming to NZ, but they do not need to come to NZ to use world-class ICT services originated in NZ. If NZ education does a good job the rewards could be greater than so far envisaged.

One helpful factor in this is that every industrialised country is facing the same problems. The countries that will fare the best are those which have fostered a strong body of ICT literate and motivated teachers. NZ appears to be in the top bracket in this regard. By making a strong push in this area it could place itself ahead of the rest of the world. Due to NZ's small size not many other countries are in the same position to effect this kind of general change.

If a wide disparity gap is to occur, making a strong push for ICT professional development will not make the development of the gap worse. It will simply change the weighting within the ICT literate schools a little. But if 15% of schools are innovative users of ICT instead of 10% in other countries, this will place NZ education in a class of its own. NZ quite possibly has a strategic advantage to acheive such a goal compared to other countries.

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