In the US Shawn Fanning was 18 when he created Napster, the technology that could change the way music is sold and distributed. In Auckland 13-year-old Karan Teneja is writing software products and, with his mother, forming a company to sell them. US multi-media company Macromedia has already sold one of his games.
Information technology gives young people the power to create highly valuable products and distribute them to an eager world. But does our education system prepare these young entrepreneurs? As the thirty-something generation grew up, its major learning method was to wade through linear processions of information, better known as books. Kids today surf the web for information, entering sites and following pages and links in no particular order. They have the equivalent of hundreds of libraries at their fingertips and can email people all over the world. They have to be more discerning about the information they use as they have more ability to pick and choose. Will they enter adulthood thinking and seeing the world differently to us?
NZ Inc director John Blackham believes children should be taught self dependence and introduced to the concept of entrepreneurism at an early age. "At the moment they go into the school system and come out in their early 20s with a bit of paper that is their ticket to a job. Whether they've learned anything along the way is irrelevant."
In Blackham's opinion it's parents who are to blame. "Changes in schooling are actually impeded by parents. They want their children to 'enjoy' the same
education as they had. Parents are saying,
I know best, do it the way I did it. Each of
us has to acknowledge that our education was inferior."
Adapting the teaching model
Paul Madsen, a teacher involved in IT at Auckland Normal Intermediate School, sees the ways IT affects learning and recognises that teaching will have to change in response.
"Technology like the web is changing learning. It's about finding information, making sense of it and making it your own. It allows people to construct their own knowledge. How do we get them to become more creative? It's a real challenge for schools. How will it change exams? At the moment they're about regurgitating everything you learned in a book. How will teachers keep up? While we're at it, why do kids born in the same year have to be in the same class? There might be really good reasons but we need to think about it."
It's not just about throwing PCs at schools, says Colleen Slater of the Ministry of Education's information and communications technology (ICT) unit. She points out that the main aim of the government's ICT in education strategy is to improve learning through ICT. "There's no point in having boxes sitting in classrooms with no-one using them."
Madsen agrees. He has visited a school in the US that had high-speed Internet access and one PC to every five kids but teachers were still teaching from books. He says using a lot of educational software is not
the answer, either. "There is a lot of it
around, some good and a lot of crap. We try not to focus on ICT because what we're
fundamentally doing hasn't changed -
getting kids to read, write, be able to do
maths and science well.
Ministry of Education initiatives such as Te Kete Ipirangi (TKI), an online forum and resource for teachers and school clusters, where 23 lead schools guide others in the area on implementing IT, are providing ways for teachers to discuss and share experiences on how to get the best out of IT. This year the government has committed $18 million for the next four years to improve TKI and to set up another 25 ICT clusters.
Aside from the obvious problem of a lack of funding for computers in schools, teacher training is also an issue.
Some of the problem stems from teacher training colleges, where until recently a large number of graduates had never worked with a computer and there is still no requirement for teachers to be competent in IT.
"People who go into teaching tend to be people people rather than technical, so
this stuff is coming through the door and wham, it just hits them," says Madsen.
"Plus it costs lots of money."