Labour and National both back enhanced ICT schools' initiatives

While Labour's plan is more developed, National is concerned that IT benefits to students can be measured

Improving schools’ ICT infrastructure and teachers’ IT skills figures in both Labour and National’s post-election plans.

In the run-up to the election, Labour is being close-lipped on policy, with Education Minister Trevor Mallard not wanting to show the Government’s hand too early, but clues abound in the public consultation process currently being driven by the Ministry of Education.

Although Mallard refuses to comment until policy is officially announced — on an unspecified date — the Ministry’s “framework for learning” is revealing. It identifies a number of “key action areas”. These include “capability and capacity development” — this means supporting schools’ ICT efforts by teaching staff the necessary skills and providing the necessary resources.

The policy-in-the-making also talks about supporting development of a “sustainable and dependable ICT infrastructure for New Zealand schools” and strengthening links with the community.

National’s view

National’s take on ICT in schools involves finding ways to fund network development and ensuring teachers have the necessary skills.

National Party education spokesman Bill English sees “two big challenges … ahead for IT in schools. The school sector needs to find sustainable ways of funding network development and, secondly, the sector needs to ensure teachers have the skills to use IT to lift achievement in proportion to the large investment in it.”

Labour’s policy is the more fleshed-out as it involves the “framework” proposal. This is actually the third in a series of strategy documents issued over the last seven years and points to the advantages of ICT in allowing students to communicate with each another and work collaboratively, as well as in helping them visualise “difficult concepts”, and in providing them with access to information databases.

In an email to Computerworld, Mallard’s office listed the Labour Government’s achievements in the ICT area.

During the last two terms in Government, Labour says it has:

  • Invested around $46 million in project PROBE, which provides high-speed internet access for all schools and their communities in regional New Zealand
  • Provided all teachers and principals in state schools with a laptop.
  • Invested over $71 million in the laptops-for-teachers scheme [meaning] over 29,000 teachers now have laptops
  • Provided professional development initiatives to improve teachers’ use of ICT for learning, teaching and administration, benefitting more than 370,000 students
  • Increased our annual investment in ICT professional development by over 300%, rising from $2.7 million in 1999/2000 to $11 million in 2004/05
  • Invested more than $27 million to ensure that all state schools have free access to Microsoft, Apple and antivirus software licences.
  • Developed a free videoconferencing bridge for rural schools.
  • Invested in the development of AsTTle (Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning) — an electronic resource that allows teachers and parents to know more clearly students’ strengths and weaknesses in literacy and numeracy, and how to take action.
  • Developed the edcentre web portal, with dedicated sections for students, parents, researchers and teachers. This web portal provides easy access to a wide range of information about our education system and how parents can get more involved in their kids’ education.

Quality varies greatly

National says it also takes schools’ use of ICT seriously.

“The quality of the IT infrastructure varies greatly,” says National education spokesman Bill English. “A minority of schools appear to have reliable secure networks. Many are scraping around to find the dollars to maintain brittle networks developed without good expertise, and to find the IT skills to meet growing requirements for electronic reporting and administration, as well as learning capability.

“From what I have seen, schools often fall short of the standards of reliability and security required, and any government will have to grapple with the issue of how much to invest [and] how fast, and how to sustain the ongoing costs. This call on resources will have to be balanced with other influences on learning [such as] professional development, special education and teachers’ salaries,” he says.

“With respect to the impact of IT on student achievement, I want to see more evidence of the benefits of more IT investment. New media has regularly forced the education system to rethink how children learn and how teachers can use a new medium to enhance learning.

“IT requires a new and different skillset from teachers to exploit its potential. A major investment in teacher development may be warranted if IT tools can indeed change learning results. The evidence so far is equivocal and, in some cases, the combination of poor teaching skills and underdeveloped technology could be a distraction from core learning,” English says.

“National will concentrate on literacy and numeracy. The IT industry should tailor its pitch to central government to show how it can help raise levels of literacy and numeracy, particularly for underachieving students.”

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