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Whose plans will get your vote?

The gloves are off. Education will be a key issue in next month’s election. We asked the two main parties to offer their thoughts on ICT in education and outline their plans for the future should they form the next Government. Here’s what they told us:

Labour Party: Ensuring Kiwi schools are ready for the future
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) increasingly turn up in every facet of modern life. This is especially true of education, where ICT is no longer a just specialist area of knowledge or a way to connect isolated communities, but something that is being blended into all aspects of teaching and learning.

A good example of this is The Loop, a regional network of Nelson schools using super-fast broadband in a variety of innovative ways. Students don’t just access information from other schools or the Internet, they create information, uploading projects from school or home. In time it will be possible to link local networks such as The Loop together through systems such as the Kiwi Advanced Education and Research Network (KAREN).

Projects like this are critical to the delivery of student-centred teaching, where the system adapts to the needs and interests of the learner, rather than the learner needing to conform to the system.

ICT plays a key role in fulfilling the Government’s Schools Plus policy, which aims to ensure all young people are engaged in education or training until age 18. Not only does ICT provide greater options for delivering learning in a classroom, it also provides much broader opportunities for students to take their learning with them.

The rapid pace of change makes it a challenge for schools and teachers to keep abreast of what is on offer in terms of ICT. To support teachers, the Ministry of Education – as part of the Government’s Digital Strategy – is implementing an e-Learning Action Plan for Schools, ‘Enabling the 21st Century Learner’ aimed at increasing the capability and confidence of teachers to use ICT to support student learning.

The action plan supports teachers to make teaching and learning more effectively directed, managed, and focused around students’ needs, as well as to enhance communication and collaboration to build partnerships beyond the classroom.

To ensure New Zealand continues to be at the forefront of ICT in teaching and learning, the Labour-led Government has made an ongoing commitment to increasing and improving the infrastructure, capability and opportunities available. The Government has invested $408 million in ICT in schools since 1999. An additional ongoing $18.6m for ICT has been added to schools’ operational budgets for 2009. More than two-thirds of schools have received funding via the ICT Clusters professional development programme. This does not include the substantial investment by schools themselves in installing and upgrading ICT systems.

The investment in ICT in our schools also means that New Zealand’s ratio of computers to students in secondary schools (0.23) is considerably above the OECD average (0.16), while every principal and 84 percent of eligible teachers have a leased laptop, for which the Government reimburses up to two thirds of the cost.

With the enthusiasm and commitment of teachers and schools, and the natural curiosity of students, this investment is intended to ensure Kiwi schools are ready for the future as it happens.

I believe that ICT is vital to readying young New Zealanders for the future and I’m extremely proud of the advances made in ICT teaching and learning under the Labour-led government.

Hon. Chris Carter, Education Minister
National Party: Schools are a top priority for faster broadband
As I have travelled throughout New Zealand since becoming Education spokeswoman, ICT has been consistently raised with me by school principals and staff.

John Key’s plans to roll out ultra-fast broadband with fibre to the home across the country, and a combination of satellite and radio for rural areas will change the way we live and work in the world. Schools are one of the top priorities for the broadband rollout. Our children must be equipped to take advantage of every opportunity in our changing world, and National will ensure schools have the technological capacity to prepare young New Zealanders for the amazing opportunities the future will hold for them. Getting high speed broadband access into homes will also have huge educational potential.

I’m very excited about the possibilities that technology opens up for our education system. For schools in rural areas in particular, I think we can use technology to address some of the difficulties around delivering the curriculum to smaller numbers of students, and maintaining a broad range of subjects for them. Currently, students sometimes have to give up a subject they love, if their school doesn’t have enough students interested to offer the class.

Ultra-fast broadband means video-conferencing becomes so much easier, and that accessibility puts students in an actual classroom with interaction and immediate responsiveness. There is fantastic potential for shared classes for subjects with few students; there are opportunities for contact with schools in other cities, even other countries, which could be beneficial for language development as well as other subjects.

That same technology can also address some of the issues working with first year and inexperienced teachers – again, the in-classroom, instant conversation can assist with observation, and mentoring, while accepting that it needs to be augmented with the face to face work we know is necessary and can never be replaced.

National is concerned about recent reports from senior ICT sector groups that NCEA is failing to equip school students for a future in the industry. One report found that the teaching of ICT skills is vague and unsuitable. We know that ICT, and faster broadband, are pathways to increased productivity, raising wages, and gaining a competitive edge, and we must ensure that our qualifications are up to standard.

My colleagues and I are excited about the potential use of new technology in our education system, and if National has the privilege of forming the next Government, ICT is high on our agenda.

Hon. Anne Tolley, National Party Spokeswoman for Education

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Categories: Article, Issue 1