Govt needs to do more for schools: Microsoft’s Lawrie

The New Zealand government isn't doing enough to ensure schools are giving students an adequate IT education, says Microsoft New Zealand head Geoff Lawrie. Lawrie says the government hasn't "fronted up" to the obligation of equipping schools with IT equipment or recognising the need to allow for IT costs in funding provision.

The New Zealand government isn’t doing enough to ensure schools are giving students an adequate IT education, says Microsoft New Zealand head Geoff Lawrie.

Lawrie says the government hasn’t “fronted up” to the obligation of equipping schools with IT equipment — not recognising that it needs to allow for IT costs in funding provisions. The funding formula was put in place well before schools required a technology infrastructure.

Lawrie says there have been schemes which involve installing second-hand PCs in schools, but having a “mish-mash” of PCs isn’t an answer that’s worked anywhere in the world. “I’m opposed to it. It’s an abrogation of responsibility. To think we can satisfy this need by giving aged, second-hand, dilapidated PCs to schools and have teachers support them. To expect they’ll get a good experience out of that is absolutely pointless.”

He says New Zealand needs to have its young people well-educated in IT.

“There’s all this talk at the moment of producing knowledge workers and living in this knowledge economy in New Zealand, and that’s not going to happen unless we make these investments.”

He says New Zealand will be required to compete globally in future, and while New Zealand’s size and location has been a problem in the past these factors are becoming less important.

Lawrie says while the IT industry can help schools, the government can’t avoid responsibility for funding schools. “I don’t think it’s the role of industry to take on the support for the social infrastructure of the country … You can’t lay the future of the country open to the goodwill of the commercial sector. That’s far too big a risk to take.”

Lawrie also believes IT education of teachers must improve. “We still have the situation where a teacher can [qualify] from a training institute and have no IT skills. In many cases children know more than the teachers. That’s fundamentally wrong.” He says the IT curriculum in schools shouldn’t only be about computer technology, but how IT is integrated in to the broader curriculum. “We should be using IT to teach English and mathematics. There needs to be some kind of centralised capability to do that — it’s too hard for schools to do on their own.”

Progress is not rapid enough, he says. “[The government] may feel some political pressure to make progress, but certainly we’re not making fast enough progress — despite the involvement of some very good people.”

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