Govt caned for ‘typewriters without Twink’ view of IT

Parliament failing to lead by example in using ICT

Government sees ICT tools as little more than typewriters that don’t need Twink, says National Party ICT spokesman Maurice Williamson.

He told a joint New Zealand Computer Society/Women in Technology gathering, held in Wellington last week, that government was setting a poor example of how to use ICT.

Ten years ago, when MPs first began using PCs, the only applications in general use were Word, Excel and Outlook. Ten years on it’s exactly the same — plus a bit of PowerPoint.

And even the way these tools are used is simple-minded, charges Williamson. “It’s just a typewriter without Twink.” Indexes, merge capabilities and other more advanced ways of organising information lie unused, he says.

Technology is similarly under-used in private industry, Williamson believes. Companies here aren’t subject to the competitive stimulus of those in other countries which drives them to use ICT productively because rivals are doing so.

The event, which addressed the theme: “ICT skills and capability in New Zealand: what’s the vision for the future?”, was originally planned as an election debate, led by Williamson and ICT Minister David Cunliffe. However, Cunliffe couldn’t attend because of illness, so a panel discussion was held instead, with Williamson as the sole political voice.

However, there was strong input from education, led by Victoria University’s John Hine. He said computer syllabus designers “lost the plot” when computer science ceased to be a branch of applied mathematics and started to be viewed instead as a business productivity toolkit (word processing and spreadsheets) to be used in rote fashion. Several speakers from the floor echoed this view.

Inevitably, the row over NCEA computer science standards was revisited, with the NZCS’s trenchant criticism, made in a report earlier this year, being restated. Educationalists see ICT as just another branch of “technology” like carpentry or panel-beating, charged the report’s co-author, Gordon Grimsey.

He said that “the principles are still the same” despite changes in the development environment over the decades. Programming still demands skills in logic — “sequence, iteration, choice; those are still the building blocks”.

Teaching young people how to produce a digital video does not develop these skills, he said. Instead, teachers need to instill enthusiasm for ICT in those young people who could, in time, become productive in the field. However, if they think ICT is just about word processing and spreadsheets, or video production, these young people will be put off further study, said Grimsey.

Anyone hoping for hints on National ICT policy, however, was disappointed. Williamson firmly declined to go into any specifics. This led to mutters about getting information from Minister Trevor Mallard instead — the primary channel for a number of recent leaks of National policy documents.

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