Everybody now backing ICT education reform

Teachers withdrew protest after the ministry agreed to tackle some of their concerns

High school teachers refusing to help develop new NCEA computer science units had been rebelling since mid-May, casting doubt on Ministry of Education claims the revolt was prompted by a critical New Zealand Computer Society curriculum report.

The ministry’s head of e-learning, Howard Baldwin, told Computerworld this month the NZCS report, which said current technology achievement standards are woefully inadequate, was a major reason for teachers withdrawing cooperation.

The teachers have now withdrawn their protest after the ministry agreed to tackle some of their concerns.

Baldwin told Computerworld earlier this month he had been on the point of telling teachers their concerns over the curriculum were being addressed, via the evolving Digital Technology Guidelines (DTG), when the NZCS’ hard-hitting comments were reported.

The publicity, he said, persuaded previously committed teachers to back off from developing the new unit standards. But it seems their discontent well predated the publication of the NZCS report.

A statement to Post-Primary Teachers’ Association members, dated May 16, says: “The PPTA Executive… advises members whose schools are considering joining the DTG to hold off until further notice.”

The PPTA’s ICT manager, Peter Cook, confirms curriculum development work is now going ahead. The NZ Computer Society is also thoroughly in the loop, says its CEO, Paul Matthews.

“We would far prefer to be working with [the ministry on a solution] than bickering about the consequences of outlining these very serious issues,” he says.

Ministry spokesman Murray Brown, who was present during Computerworld’s interview with Baldwin, declined to comment on the disparity between the PPTA’s and the ministry’s timing of events.

“I am not aware of [the PPTA’s] position prior to the Computer Society work, but PPTA members have been fully involved in the work so far,” he said in an email.

Calls to Baldwin were not returned.

A source close to the discussion says teachers’ reservations centred on four aspects of the new units being devised: lack of quality control over the course materials being devised, leaving authors vulnerable to having unintentional mistakes perpetuated in the curriculum; unduly tight timeframes for course development; concern material was being rewritten by ministry officials, who were inserting “jargon, such as references to ‘stakeholders’ and ‘key factors’ ”; and continued lack of proper achievement standards.

There was concern that the pass or fail only unit standards that presently dominate ICT courses were to continue. The other kind of NCEA standard used is the achievement standard, which allows for “merit” and “excellence” grades and which is more useful to university selectors controlling admission to restricted courses.

Undertakings regarding all these concerns have now been made and the boycott is at an end.

Brown says similar work developing computer science achievement standards was done as part of the Fluency in IT (FIT) initiative, in 2004-2005.

“By December 2005, it was determined by the funding partners that the scoping work did not provide the level of detail and costings required. It was decided to go back to the market for the more detailed business case needed to secure government funding, and an RFP was released in March 2006,” says Brown.

Phase one of implementation under the project, involving 14 “lead teachers”, is now approaching completion, Brown says. Phase 2 is scheduled to start at the beginning of July.

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