The Digital Technology Guidelines “are not progressing in the correct direction”, insists NZCS chief executive Paul Matthews, who says the Ministry of Education is trying to create high-level courses on top of an unsatisfactory base of prior learning.
“We’d like students below Year 11 to be presented with at least an idea of what computer science is,” he says. “I’ve had about 50 emails from students and their parents, saying the achievement standards that are there at the moment are really putting them off a career in ICT.”
Told of ministry spokesman Howard Baldwin’s view of lower level computing as a facilitator within the general curriculum, Matthews agrees computer-related techniques clearly have a role there, but that kind of teaching should be blended into the subject where it is used. Computer graphics in the service of drawing maps should be part of geography, he says. “It shouldn’t be called computing.”
Identifying graphics and digital video production as part of a computing syllabus distinct from computer science, he says, is “like having a subject called mathematics and another called ‘calculating’, which teaches you how to use a calculator.”
Using spreadsheets is as basic a technique as using a pocket calculator, he says; it’s a “core competency” and should be taught as such, in association with the subject to which it’s applied. “But it’s not computing”.
While the equipment used in computing and some of the techniques are changing rapidly, the fundamental understanding doesn’t change, or at least changes only slowly, and this is what is taught in computer science, he says.
The MoE people recognise there are problems, says Matthews, but he’s not sure they appreciate where the problems lie. The Society will offer its help, he says, either on its own behalf or as a means of introducing the ministry team to senior academics and senior people from the ICT industry.
“The next step will be taking a hard look at what work is being done. We’ll then make recommendations.”