Archive for Technology

The classrooms are alive with the sound of music!

 

I forget who said in a rather cautionary tone “When you consider the power of TV to educate aren’t you pleased that it doesn’t!”

I thought about that the other day when into my possession came a Schools Music Bulletin from the 1960s and I got quite nostalgic. I recall, all those years ago, when I was in the primers and the standards looking forward to those programmes. They were broadcast to us from that speaker up on the wall above the teacher’s blackboard, the same one that would bring messages from the Headmaster, an event once described by a friend as “old men doing their knitting over the air!”

The Schools Music Programme would seem pretty dull now but I was reminded that we tackled quite a range of songs which were, of course, sung clearly and beautifully by the unseen choir and rather less accurately by us. But it was fun and it gave us exposure to music regardless of the extent to which our teacher was tone-deaf.

And the pupils in Gore got the same programme that we got – it was in a sense using technology to bring quality experiences into each classroom.

There were other uses of radio too and I recall the weekly “Assembly” of the correspondence school, National Radio on a Friday around the middle of the day.  Ormond Tate delivered particularly sound homilies but he had an advantage over other principals who knew how many they were speaking to but never how many were hearing them who knew neither.

Then let’s not forget the National Film Library, that rich treasure house of fun, information, and enlightenment through the magic of 16mm film. I wonder if television has ever achieved the impact of that service – leather pizza boxes strapped securely arriving weekly and replenishing young peoples’ appetite to learn.

And yes, teacher skill was certainly required. When I trained to be a teacher I dutifully undertook instruction in how to operate a film projector and having passed the course and been duly certified, marched forth to show films to students.

I was a little surprised to hear the CE of Xero, that high flying tech company, recently say that getting skilled people in New Zealand was difficult. He questioned the schooling students were getting – “Don’t give them iPads, teach them to think and solve problems” he said or something along those lines.

The beauty of radio has always been that it requires effort from the listener. What comes out of the radio is half the story, the understanding and embellishment of the pictures, the sounds and the words is in the hands of the listeners. I grew up listening to the Goon Show – mad disjointed crazy stuff that was gifted to a listener to make of it whatever they might.

On the other hand, radio now is full of either celebrity chitchat or hosts inanely laughing at their own jokes seemingly unaware of how unfunny they are. You couldn’t play that sort of material to young people.

So do National Radio and the Concert Programme fit the bill for exciting young people? The best of it might but it falls away too quickly. I personally have long felt that the best of national radio is to be found in the rural broadcasting programmes – middle of the day to catch the farmers when they are inside having lunch. You get a flavor of real people doing important work through those broadcasts.

But the concert programme is as much articulate chatter as it is concert these days. Don’t you just love those stations committed to classical music that you can now access over the internet? Now that’s a funny thing, using the internet to get something we used to get from old radios with glowing valves!

And all that from an old journal for the Music to Schools Programme. I must get back to chortling my way through The Ash Grove.

 

 

Stripped Naked for the Meeting

I felt completely naked as I walked into the meeting at an undisclosed building in an undisclosed city. The reception area had stripped me of the electronic gadgets that I usually carry with me. Philosophic about this I thought no more of it confident that as promised they would be returned as    I left the building. It didn’t seem to matter, well not until the meeting started.

I had no meeting papers. Usually they are sitting there waiting in a meeting filing system that is fool -proof as indeed they had been when I carefully read them the previous evening.  All of my meetings are sitting on a virtual bookshelf in nice order thanks to a piece of software developed at Waikato University called Stellar Library. It is a lifesaver in a life punctuated with meetings.

But, no gadget, no papers. They printed off another set.

Then we reached a part of the meeting where I was asked for some detail about the project. No problem, I have a complete set of project papers with me. No! Wait a minute, they are in the same gadget as the meeting papers – different software but efficient nevertheless. But forget efficiency when you don’t have the gadget. I suggested that I phone the office for a set to be sent through to someone who was allowed a gadget. But of course I didn’t have the phone to send either a voice message or a text message.

They decided that it would be too much bother and take too much time and anyway the question didn’t matter all that much. This could have been a real problem but nothing could be done about it and we simply had to move on to the next topic.

It could be that we could set up another meeting. Well, that was more easily said than done – I didn’t have my phone therefore I didn’t have my diary, therefore I couldn’t ………

There is small amount of exaggeration in a quest to be apocryphal but not much – the basic facts are correct. What it underlined for me was the fact that we have become much more gadget dependent than we might imagine. There I was, by a simple request to hand over my iPad and my iPhone at the reception area, stripped of …………

  • my meeting notes;
  • my project files;
  • my diary;
  • my phone;
  • my access to text messaging.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because I didn’t have my phone, my watch no longer notified me of all those things that digital gadgets like to notify us of. All it could do was tell the time and state the date!  I often take notes on the iPad which can then be quickly shared with others. A quick snap with the camera on the phone can capture a diagram on the whiteboard or the screen and again save a lot of time.  These things are no longer gadgets, they are the tools we use.

You see the convergence of connectivity and our reliance on these things has changed the way we work, despite perhaps trying not to we have become very reliant on them. I remember a staff member saying to me once when we experienced a power cut that closed down the networks (actually it didn’t – just shut off the screens and the CPUs) that “We may as well go home, we can’t do any work!” That was quite wrong because at that time filing was still a physical process and there was plenty of that. There were people to see, and so on.

We live in this changed world in which we are greatly assisted to do our work in ways that we never imagined. We rejoice in this connectivity when it works for us but curse when it doesn’t.

Was the meeting a waste of time as a result of my confiscated gadgets? Not al all. I haven’t gone over to the other side completely. I pulled out my notebook (the old kind, lined pages between covers) and my fountain pen and all was well. Ah yes, belt plus braces.

 

 

There’s more than one way to reach the stars!

Rather than let off a few sky rockets on yet another silly day we remember, hard on the heels of that even sillier day called Halloween, I thought I would throw a few ideas up in the air as we head towards the end of the year. These are called game-changers. They would lift educational performance in New Zealand. We have known most of these for a long time but other things get in the way. On Thursday I will give a complementary list of show-stoppers.

Principals of secondary schools are welcome to use these lists as they put the final touches to their prize-giving addresses.

The “Game Changers” List

1. Access to early childhood education

It astounds me that in this rich country we still have uneven distribution of opportunity for early childhood education. I do not need to repeat the evidence, it is over whelming. And the lack of equity in the area is hidden by two factors – quirky gatherings of information about actual participation (likely to be lower than reported) and the evening out of statistics into regional and national figures.

A stark statistic: In the Tamaki suburb in Auckland there are 7,000 youngsters under the age of five and there are 2,000early childhood education places.

A quick but excellent fix: In areas of low participation, add an early childhood facility to each primary school – same Board, same management, shared outdoor facilities, great savings. Best of all, it would be goodbye to the entangling bureaucracy that surrounds the development of conventional centres.

2 Greater attention to basic skills in primary schools

I might be naïve but it is bizarre that in the country that led the world not only in reading performance but also in the teaching of reading that so many children fail to reach a safe standard in the eight years of primary schooling. The same can be said of mathematics (sometimes called numeracy). Add to the list the development of knowledge, social skills, preparedness for further education, and exposure to arts and practical skills all in a context of new technologies and you would have not only an interesting programme but one which didn’t place so many students on a trajectory of failure.

A stark fact: Students show a decline in learning in key areas between Year 4 and Year 8.

A quick but excellent fix: Demand that primary schools do less but that they do it to higher standards. The foundation skills are taught in primary schools. Isn’t it ironic that the term “foundation skills” has been transferred to the first several years of post-secondary education and training for those who have failed to accrue such skills and this is clearly too late.

3. See a clear distinction between junior and senior secondary schools.

Education systems that we admire and would wish to emulate invariably have a clear distinction between what is in New Zealand Year 10 and Year 11. The first two years of high school are years of finishing off the processes started in primary school and the preparation for discipline focussed study that is in a context of future employment. Years 11 and 13 in these overseas systems are clearly differentiated with the availability of clear vocational technical opportunities emerging to complement the university track (which is working well in New Zealand). In other words, young students have choices about their futures.

Another shared feature is that at that age students are credited with much greater maturity but also supported to a much greater degree. The style and organisation of schooling is more akin to a tertiary institution than to the primary schools from which the secondary schools evolved.

A stark statistic: By age 16 years 21% of 16 year olds have dropped out of New Zealand schooling system.

A quick but excellent fix:  Sorry folks, but there isn’t one. This area is where the most comprehensive reforms are needed. Put simply, apart from the track to university, the New Zealand senior secondary school is broken. That style of education no longer suits too many of our young people. Don’t despair – we share this with our sibling systems in Australia, the United States, the UK and most of Canada. WE need to look elsewhere for evidence of what works and then craft our own responses for our particular circumstances.

4 Cement the output of graduates from tertiary education to employment.

There needs to be a clear line of sight between tertiary programmes and employment. I know that the universities resist any such notion – I have been told by those who know that such a connection is not helpful – “We do not train people, we educate them.” Just think of it, all those untrained doctors, ophthalmologists, engineers, lawyers – what rubbish such a claim is.  And in light of the unrelenting marketing of universities as the place to secure a future, to get high earning powered positions it is simply not sense.

Tertiary education is expensive both for the taxpayer and for the students who are the sons and daughters of taxpayers. They have a right to know that their investment in education at a tertiary level be it at a university, an ITP, a PTE a Wananga or wherever will lead to a job. If a degree in business has prepared you to look after the valet parking desk at the airport (as was a case I came across recently) then it can only be concluded that the programme offered little in the way of access.

A stark statistic:  About one half of those who start a post-secondary qualification actually complete it.

A quick but excellent fix:  it seems as if we are drifting towards a situation where tertiary providers are to be held accountable for the progress into employment of their graduates. If this were applied to all levels and types of tertiary education it might well be a good thing. Of course it would have to be first accepted that a key purpose of post-secondary education and training is to get the appropriate job. This might also require a better connection between demand and supply in the labour market. Consideration of these a matters need to be sped up.

There might be more than meets the eye!

 

I have been criticized plenty of times for suggesting that a key purpose of an education is to get a job. I have plenty of times put up with arguments about the higher purposes of schooling. I have even been told, with great seriousness, by the VC of a prestigious university that “We don’t train people, we educate them!”

Then dark clouds rolled in – we had a skills shortage, we had a mismatch between the labour market and the supply line from education providers. We had a growing sense of unease at the indicators that pointed to something of a perfect storm where Salt’s demographic faultline rumbled at the same time as the GFC (i.e. a recession for those not into TLAs) took hold.

There then developed a set of sideshows that risked turning education into something akin to a vaudeville show. Student / teacher ratios led the charge, then there was Novopay, then there was push back in Christchurch at offers of support to look at working in other ways that some other parts of the country might have welcomed (without, of course, the earthquakes that provoked them).

Meanwhile, without a fuss, the world had started to change. New programmes appeared that were more closely aligned to employment. Students started to move into these programmes at a younger age. No longer was a 15-19 year old faced with a single choice – stay in school – but was able to consider pathways through different kinds of institutions and face having not just what used to be thought of as a school leaving qualification (NCEA) but with a set of qualifications, NCEA and a technical qualification, employment ready at about the time the rest were heading off to university to start the journey.

In short, we are at a time when the education scene is changing for 15 – 19 year olds and the conventional senior secondary school is slowly being moved sideways to take its place alongside other pathways. Some of the developments are highly visible (the Tertiary High school, Youth Guarantee fees free places) while others are less obvious retaining a little of the look of school (trades academies for instance).

I am told that by 2015, there will be about 17,500 young people (15-19 year olds) who will be pursuing their education in a place other than a school – ITPs, wananga, PTEs would account for most of them I imagine. This is something of a silent revolution. Imagine the size of a group of 17,000 students would look like in the one place! It is quite a few empty classrooms.

That this is happening is not an argument against schools, it is simply affirmation that some young people have their life chances enhanced by continuing their schooling somethere other than a school. Don’t you love the US habit of referring to “school” for pretty well all levels? One fellow said to me recently I am going back to school next semester – that was to Harvard to do a Masters degree!

So imagine my surprise when on Labour Day (consider the irony of this) I heard two news reports on the radio both urging the authorities to see that education institutions be measured by their success in getting people into employment. And they both were teacher organisations, one here in New Zealand and the other in Australia.

We have just had the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment issue a RFP calling for proposals that bring together community connection and involvement, quality trades training, involvement of ITOs in the process of moving the student through to employment, the provision of tools – this all sounds like a commitment to seamlessness, it sounds like a carefully constructed pathway. And it is interesting that the TEC and MBIE are involved with each contributing what they do best.

Is there enough happening to claim that a paradigm shift is under way? Possibly, the signs are there that we are moving away from a set of practices that have been fairly constant for thirty years. Next will come the uncertainty and then the emergence of a new way of working.

But let me put this forward as an idea. Education was pretty constant in the way it worked for a hundred years until the late 1960s and 1970s when much change happened. Tracking / streaming was bad – out it went. Industrial arts were a reflection of an age now gone – out they went. The government employed 80% of the apprentices but they sold off the industrial and service agencies that employed them – out they went. Polytechnics were invented and training shifted both in the institutions and into daylight – out went learning on the job.

It could be that the big paradigm shift really started back then, went through a time of great uncertainty (the 1990s and the 2000s) and what is happening now is the emergence of a new way of working. Now that would be exciting.

 

Pathways-ED: It’s not just another project!

“You mean that you don’t have any scheduled classes on a Wednesday?” I asked wondering what was happening here.

“That’s right, the students spend that time doing their impact projects,” the Principal replied. “We call them the Impact Projects and it gives them a chance to bring their learning together and apply it for a practical purpose.”

I had been invited to participate in the celebration evening at the Albany Senior High School. Thinking about it as I headed across the Harbour Bridge, I wondered if this would be like so many of the many Science Fairs I had attended, or the other efforts I have seen where students generate hugely disproportionate amounts of energy and fun but produce not a lot – never mind the quality, or the warmth.

I was sure that what I was about to see would not challenge the amazing activity I had once seen at High Tech High in San Diego. There the students were nearing the end of the semester and this school, located in buildings in an old and historic naval base, had developed a project-based approach. Students were too busy to talk to me but they took time out to quickly explain what they were doing, etc. It was greatly impressive as they gave voice to the learning they had. Mature scholarship and youthful inventiveness characterised the typical project.

In New Zealand many tertiary programmes, especially in IT, have a requirement for a keystone project towards the end of the course. Would the high school projects be like these but perhaps at a lower level?

Well, was I in for a surprise. I saw that evening some of the most advanced and mature work I have ever seen high school level students produce. It was remarkable.

Microsoft had agreed to publish an app developed by one student that simply but incrementally taught a learner the basics of music theory. It was clever in its conception and beautiful in its execution. Clean lines, simple instructions. The student was articulate both about the IT and the music. Other music projects included performance, original compositions and, the building of a “copy” Les Paul guitar. To this last student I was able to chat about a concert I had seen Les Paul give in a jazz club in NewYork. We shared an enthusiasm.

Another student saw his project develop out of his after-school / holiday job in a surf store. He had set about developing the complete array of programmes and IT services needed to run the business especially the customer end of it – using barcode for stock control, an interactive and youthful internet store (increased turn-over = ten-fold). This was IT, business, strategic thinking, all wrapped into a very smart piece of work.

It was appropriate that in that very week where those daring young men, sailors in their flying machines were bouncing around San Francisco harbour, a further project had built a small craft that lifted out of the water on foils. The group had encountered issues, all tackled and resolved as the project unfolded.

There were dance performances, art projects (original painted shoes, a graphic novel, an origami chandelier), environmental projects (I loved the recycled furniture project – from inorganic collection to art work) and so on.

What was the point of all this? Well, quite clearly in the face of such explicit evidence of learning, some excellent teaching had occurred. But that seemed minor in light of two more important elements.

There had been extensive engagement with the community across this array of projects. Business, local government, tertiary education providers, retailers, primary schools, and sports organisations both local and national. This is just a sample. Students were faced not only with finding a confidence in doing this but also a security about their own learning as they interacted with busy people. The school had confidence in these exchanges which might have caused some nervousness in a more conventional setting.

The other exciting element was that the students were clearly demonstrating the qualities and skills that are so often spoken about as the soft skills of employment. Certainly they are the skills sought by tertiary education providers as students move into the higher levels of learning and qualifications. Team work, strategising, planning, implementing, setting of goals, ability to think creatively, to be articulate about technical knowledge and suchlike are the key outcomes of a good grounding in the basic skills.

Schools such as Albany Senior High School are leading the way in showing that having confidence in the quality of your programmes and in the the teaching / learning dynamic of the school then liberates the students and allows them to use new learning and develop new skills in ways in which the quality of the activity is nourished by personal interest, need and passion. I say need because one student had realised that she was light in physics given the direction her interests had developed – she saw an opportunity in her project work to do something about this.

Perhaps all this was summed up for me in a comment from Lucy in a reflective piece that looked back on her Impact Project experience – “The highlight for me was being able to learn from Amy.” This captured the essence of a good programme where the teacher stood aside and students saw the real lifelong learning resource -those around them.

Proud parents and grandparents, excited and animated young people, teachers who knew their job had been well done – education at its best.

 

Pathways-ED: IT is a lot bigger than you think!

 

Informtaion Technology (IT) is big business in New Zealand.  Statistics NZ puts the IT spend at $6.4 billion each year.  As this figure does not include expenditure that is internal or for labour, it can be assumed that quite a bit of it is spent on IT Projects and Developments – the Novopay kind of project.

They also estimate that when it comes to IT projects in New Zealand, 25% of them succeed, 25% of them fail and the rest fall into the “grey area” or in other words things are much the same as they have always been, no great damage done but not much improvement is obvious either.

The failure of large IT developments in the State Sector has usually been greeted with the clicking of tongues, the issuing of reprimands and the usual calls for blood.  The Health Sector called a major development off once but only after spending quite a few million before realising that it wasn’t going to work.

The Police Department was an early pioneer in IT issues when back in the mid-1980s it launched its INCIS Project. It ballooned out to costing over a million dollars.  In reality the project was abandoned in 1999 but various bit and pieces were able to be used.  The police have recently abandoned its system for recording offenders and reverted to the previous system it used on the grounds that it was better and, anyway, staff preferred using the older one.

This last point is an issue that is often not included in the costs of such failures – the cost through frustration and stress when such new systems don’t work well is considerable and the reputation of the system takes quite a hammering. This sets in motion a downward spiral of mistrust and cynicism which can prove fatal.

The Novopay Affair has all the classic features of a major IT project in that it seems to have created major frustration and anger simply in trying to achieve something that has always been done one way or another – i.e. see that each fortnight teachers get paid.  This does not, to use the cliché, seem like rocket science, but it is a very complex pay roll with untold opportunity for errors and wrong payments to occur.

Does anyone remember the period that was required for the previous Payroll System to settle down in the early 1990s?  Time heals all!

In the mid-1970s I was overpaid over a period of time for reasons that were innocent and complex.  The error was discovered in the old Department of Education right on the last pay before Christmas which was a large pay in those days that took you over the holiday period and into the next school year.  Their response was simple – don’t say anything to the teacher involved (me) and simply reverse the Christmas salary payment taking out of his (my) bank account the total amount I quite properly needed to pay back.  I was left with virtually nothing.  Well, a few phone calls and that situation was remedied with the pay being restored.

While I had no right to retain the money I had the right to negotiate the manner in which I repaid the amount.  We agreed on an amount and lo and behold on the next pay day when this process was to start I checked my pay and they had swiped a much greater amount out of the cheque.  At that point all automatic procedures were abandoned and we agreed that each fortnight I would post to the Department of Education a cheque for $10.00 (the sums weren’t huge but this was nearly 40 years ago).  Each fortnight I received from the Department of Education a letter posted to me with a receipt for my payment.  If in any week I was a day or two late, I received a letter from the Department of Education requesting my payment in response to which I sent a letter and they sent a letter back.

This arrangement of Gilbertian complexity continued until I had discharged my obligation to put right their mistake.  Thank goodness all this didn’t happen under current conditions when I would have had to battle call centres and suchlike.

The biggest project failure that I enjoyed most was the Defence Force’s purchase of a supply ship that subsequently and after many millions of dollars later proved to be most suitable for shipping oranges around the Mediterranean.  This exceeded any of the stupidities of Captain Mainwaring and his Dad’s Army mob.

In the US the major software developer Geneca reports a survey recently completed, that 75% of business executives anticipate that their IT software projects’ will fail.  This is a serious situation because it is as if the projects are doomed before they start.  Largely the reasons point simply to poor planning.  Perhaps it is a case of the partially sighted (the IT experts) leading the blind (the non-IT expert business leaders).

It is not just the leaders that have been agitated by the Novopay business but pretty well everyone in the schooling sectors.  The majority of those leading the charge will not have been affected in any material way at all – their support for the colleagues that have been is interesting and likely is an extension of a host of other issues.  Once again, the education sectors have chosen protest over leadership in their contribution to an issue.

And where have the teachers’ employers been through all this?  The Boards of Trustees employ all the teachers, their peak body has been notably absent from any public discussion of the issues.

But take heart. Only 1 in 4 IT projects fail – Novopay might turn out to be the one out of four that succeeds or even one of two out of four that don’t make much difference.

 

 

 

The Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  colleen.young@manukau.ac.nz  or P:  09 968 7631.

 

 

 

Talk-ED: The Year of the Snake

2013, the Year of the Snake and a whole lot more besides.

No doubt some of the old issues from 2012 will continue to percolate if not go on the boil. Novopay now has a new Minister looking after it. It was a good move to remove the distraction that this has been from the very critical issues of schooling that we face. Not that the teacher pay issues are not critical but it is essentially a technical issue.

There are a couple of questions that I have wondered about in all this business. Why has the School Trustees Association been so silent and at a distance from all the troubles? After all they are the employers of the teachers and the employment issues created by the whole affair is between teachers and support personnel and their respective boards.

The other question that has yet to be answered is about the quality of data input. There is an old I.T. term, GIGO, that has been the source of many a solution. It stands for Garbage In Garbage Out – in other words, a problem can exist through errors in input. That so many teachers and others are being paid correctly suggests that this is not the source for many but the nature of the gross mis-payments which has seen some teachers paid grotesquely huge amounts might arise through misplacement of decimal points or reversal of variables or something along those lines.

The State sector has a history of failed I.T. projects and one hopes that this is not another one.

The other 2013 issue will inevitably be the Partnership School Kura Houora development. First the Education and Science Select Committee hearings and then the selection of sponsors and then… Meanwhile across the Tasman it all happens almost under the radar. Queensland today launches 26 Independent Public Schools which are to be given greater freedoms in funding and its use and in the appointment of staff.  Mind you, they already have the fire and the floods, if plague and famine appear we will know that they have offended the gods! In New Zealand we have to be content with the offence to the idea taken by the teacher organisations.

I was amused at the image of the teacher (male) sitting with his feet up on the teacher’s desk which appeared in one of the anti-charter school advertisements. I was amused because a couple of years ago, a campaign in favour of charter schools and academies in the United States denigrated the public schools with the image of, you’ve guessed it, a teacher with his feet up on the teacher’s desk. An ordinary idea can only be beaten by a good idea and that can only be beaten by a better idea – so where are the ideas that will see clear and more equitable education outcomes from our education system?

We know that the experience of charter schools in other countries has seen excellent ones, mediocre ones and downright poor ones. Interestingly the proportions of these categories is about the same as the proportion of excellent public schools, mediocre public schools and poor public schools. We have about 2,800 schools in New Zealand, establishing three partnership schools will hardly be a silver bullet nor will it bring the house down. But why would we not believe that we can have three excellent ones?

Finally I note that Teach First NZ, the pressure cooker programme which sees an intensive pre-service teacher education programme precede teaching in the schools with on-going instruction and support, has placed its first crop of recent graduates into schools. It was interesting that one of our university Education Faculties led the charge with this. A similar idea proposed thirty years ago to meet the needs of multicultural schools, a new phenomenon then and largely a mystery to teacher educators, was rejected by all concerned at that time. But good ideas have a habit of resurfacing.

I have had the pleasure of working with several schools in those get-back-to-work PD days that herald the imminent arrival of the challenges. I am continually buoyed by the quality and enthusiasm of these groups. A good way to start the year would be to commit to the goal of high esteem for teachers, schools and education, less of the negativity from the leadership, less of the polemic, lower fear of ideas, brutal honesty about outcomes, a drive back towards simplicity of purpose and fun. That would be both a good start and Finnish.

 

Talk-ED: And we thought we were doing well!

 

I have recently had drawn to my attention a publication from the OECD which challenges seriously some of the thinking that has been bandied around in discussions of the “information age”, “digital natives” and technology in general. The report, Connected Minds: Technology and today’s Learners (OECD, 2012) calls into question many of the assumptions and statements that underpin a lot of what is said and done. Here are some samples:

“To begin with, although an increasing percentage of young people can be said to be adept in technology, it is misleading to assume that all of them fit equally into the image of New Millennium Learners.”

“Secondly, there is not enough empirical evidence yet to support the idea that student’s use of technology and digital media is transforming the way in which they learn, their social values and lifestyles and, finally, their expectations about teaching and learning.”

The report clearly demonstrates that, as of today, there is not enough research evidence to demonstrate that technology attachment or connectedness has critical effects on cognitive skills development……. Yet claims about changes in the brain caused by attachment to technology or connectedness are simply not backed by evidence.”

The OECD is known for its careful and challenging research reports and this one seems to knock to pieces the assumptions that we so often hear about in educational discussions.

I have long felt that the supposed advantage that young people had over we elderly was simply that – a supposition that this should be so. When time spent is taken into consideration, being technically adept is not related to age any more than the older age groups know how to manage a vegetable garden better than the young generation.

Malcolm Gladwell has asserted that it takes 10,000 hours to develop high level competence in a skill area. Students spend a little less than 8,000 hours in school (up to Year 10) so school alone is not going to get them there. Perhaps they spend huge amounts of time out of school connected through technology but some of that raises issues that are challenging to educators rather than helpful. The influence of video games might not be totally wholesome (although they have been found to have developed further some skill areas), cyber-bullying and distorted relationships can result, students can develop a loose attitude to what we could call plagiarism, and so on.

But a key issue is the importance attributed to “digital literacy”. The OECD material is right in asserting that digital literacy is not meant to replace conventional literacy. But the relationship between the two skill sets is, the report suggests, a little confused. This is because, and here New Zealand might be able to claim immunity from the allegations, as the report notes, “digital literacy tends to be marginalised from schools.”

Digital literacy requires the teaching of digital literacy just as literacy requires a conscious effort from both teacher and learner. It cannot simply be a side dish to the more traditional fare of education programmes. Now there could be a good case to be made here that New Zealand schools do give digital literacy the emphasis and place that it deserves.

The OECD perhaps weakens its case in this regard when it uses as evidence this lack of a central place for digital literacy the fact that statements about digital literacy are not taken “into account seriously, that is, translating statements into requirements for national student assessments.

The report further concludes by noting some of the challenges: integrating digital media and social practices into the daily school life, dealing with the issue of 21st Century Skills, helping young people learn the digital and information skills that are simply assumed to have been picked up and helping young people become connected so as to enhance the learning experience.

Postscript

Today is the first of October,. Who remembers the 1 October Gazette which unleashed an avalanche of teaching position applications from those aspiring to teach the following year. All that has changed as the dynamics of supply / demand have altered. Another little exciting ritual consigned to the scrap heap!