The writers of the draft digital technologies have pulled a swift one

The writers of the document have taken over the purposes of education and this without any real consultation – I dismiss the validity of the discussion to come: one of the reasons is that the writers have been dishonest. The digital technologies document is complete to the last step, outcome, and full-stop. I have that information from two highly reliable sources within the ministry. Oh yes – some cosmetic changes to come, but that will be it. [This, of course, will be denied.]

The so-called draft digital technologies in the national curriculum is prolix, saturated with techno-jargon, impenetrable in explicability, covers everything and the more useless for that, a major dump of everything and nothing, not a consultation document, but a distraction from not having solved any of the major issues that face digital technologies in the curriculum.

The writers of the document indicate no understanding of how children learn in various curriculum areas, especially in primary, but nearly as inadequately in secondary.

The writers of the document give no learning evidence of what is timely for children, timely in the sense of effectiveness and efficiency.

The writers of the document indicate no understanding of the unresolved issues that face the implementation of the present New Zealand curriculum.

The writers of the document indicate no understanding that because of top-down imposition on schools and the kind of knowledge that is allowed through to schools – the New Zealand education system is in decline.

The writers of the document display no genuine recognition of the place of national standards in curbing children’s thinking and teachers’ initiative.

The writers of the document display no recognition of the nature of the education system in that the education review office and the functioning of the so-called Communities of Learning are being readied to pressure teachers into digital compliance.

The writers of the document, in producing a document so lacking in humanity, make no allowance for the many wonderful teachers, especially in primary, who will have to be convinced of digital technologies being useful to meeting children’s needs.

The writers of the document do not clearly enough make a distinction between using digital technologies in regular classroom work and learning about digital technologies as a purpose in themselves. (I am hugely fearful of the tool of digital technologies being pushed artificially into curriculum areas to the distortion of the purposes of those curriculum areas; but supportive of the digital technologies being learnt as a purposes in themselves.)

The writers of the document persist in describing the document as for everybody including employers Uncle Tom Cobley and all, with children seemingly an afterthought.

The writers of the document mistake children’s learning as though an algorithm: children’s thinking is a transcendentally complex interaction of the affective and the cognitive, sometimes characterised by marvellous leaps of understanding and miserable piles of confusion: so why is learning set out in steps, why not in the holistic, and why are the outcomes expressed so prosaically and ploddingly?

The writers of the document seem to have positioned digital learning to take over computational work from mathematics.

The writers of the document seem untouched by the idea of digital technology in schools being fraught with failure (a cold unbending techno-arrogance is discernible).

The writers of the document give no attention to a an alternative way to introduce digital technologies: by reducing class sizes, freeing up access to knowledge, giving teachers more freedom to display creative initiative, agreeing on purposes – then, in that context, encouraging schools to access funding for furthering their use of digital technology.

The writers of the document make no reference to the success of Finland with its low tech but high performing teachers.

The writers of the document make no reference to the PISA summary that the best-performing nations have a commitment to high standards for achievement, and quality teachers and principals.

The writers of the document show little awareness that digital technologies should be built on the best existing motivations rather than trying to create them for their digital purposes.

The writers of the document too often exhibit the characteristic of technology as a solution looking for a problem, or pose technology as a solution to a problem that cannot be solved with technology – future employment is a fair consideration but it being so intensively played on suggests a cynical play on fear.

The writers of the document give only lip-service to the crucial idea of digital learning being a vehicle, not a full learning solution (though, as a way of protecting the curriculum I support setting aside time for digital learning alone).

The writers of the document see social and economic needs, which we all do, but, for all the fancy and technological words produced by the writers, have thrown a poorly defined solution at them.

The writers of the document, if they really knew their quadrangle stuff; that is social and economic needs, children’s learning characteristics, system purposes, and digital possibilities would have been able to step down from their jarring jargon-overdrive and talk in English.

The writers of the document – and why digital technology has such a spotty record (leaving aside it being a huge success everywhere when described by those deeply involved in its promotion) – have clearly not attended to the main purposes of the curriculum areas, but those main purposes need to be carefully sorted out as there is far from unanimity, just going with those of the bureaucracies is, as they say, a recipe for disaster, so there’s your problem, sort that one out digitally. You’ve got to laugh!

The writers of the document will find that the nature of the New Zealand education system, being such a closed system, will lead to the digital technology curriculum being a relative failure. For instance, the culture of reading in New Zealand is of the holistic, but the trend under the closed system is of phonics – therein lies the certain failure. (I could go through the whole curriculum in this way.)

The writers of the document need to get the purposes of education and the curriculum areas worked out to general agreement from Wellington to classrooms – but this won’t happen (because a neoliberal system never relinquishes power).

The writers of the document have angled their cold language to a chilling panic: but digital technologies don’t have to be introduced like that, they can be introduced calmly, patiently – after all, children don’t have to learn at school all the technologies they’ll encounter as adults.

The writers of the document have taken the wrong step in being so adamant the document is right – the greatest likelihood of at least a little success will come from those in schools, or near schools, being sceptical.

The following explains this site’s position on digital technologies

While computers are important to the lives of children in their transactions with the world, and will be central to their lives as adults, doesn’t mean computers should be central to their lives in school education. Making computers central in school education would be to place computers above all other parts of education to damaging consequence to those other parts and to children’s developmental growth. The place of computers, if a new and more significant place is justified, should be as part of valid and thoughtful education change drawing from the vocational to the pedagogical to the philosophical not, as the case now, from ideological groupings, profit-interested industry, vote-seeking politicians, and computer-education enthusiasts.

As part of that I declare my prior understandings about the concept of something called 21st century education – a concept because there has never been any discussion about something called 20th century education, it was never conceptualised in that way, so why for 21st century education? The formation and high usage of the concept label suggests powerful forces at work – forces, I suggest, taking control of the present to control the future. Those active in promoting the concept of 21st century education are mostly from political, technology, and business groupings, also some academics: the immediate future they envisage as an extension and intensification of their perception of society and education as they see it now. And in the immediate future, as well as the longer term one, they see computers at the heart of 21st century education, which is fair enough as long as the role of computers is kept in proportion as befits a tool, a gargantuanly important one, but still a tool.

Another prior understanding is that the inappropriate use of computers for learning has contributed to the decline in primary school education (though well behind the contribution of national standards and the terrible education autocracy of the education review office). For all the talk of personalising learning, of building learning around the child, of individualising learning, the mandating question for 21st century education seems to be: how can we build the digital into learning instead of how can we best do the learning? And even further: how can we build schools for digital learning instead of what is best for children’s learning environment? Large open spaces are not the best environment for children’s learning, meaning that in combination with the heavy use of computers to make large open spaces ‘work’, a distinct problem is developing. Computers and large open spaces are being promoted by 21st century advocates as the two key ideas to carry us forward to the education for the 21st century.

In respect to computers, learning about them and using them is both necessary and inevitable, how could it be otherwise, but from that necessity and inevitability comes the responsibility to protect schools from their disassociating effects. The neoliberal advocates of a computer-laden future are putting at risk the potential of human thought, behaviour, and imagination. Their judgement, based on what computers can do, remains undisturbed, it seems, by any understanding of what the best of learning can be. Computers are going to be everywhere, beyond the imaginations of most of us; all the more important to appreciate the decisive contribution of learning beyond and apart from the computer and the need to challenge the social control that pervasive computer use brings to bear on school and beyond.

The use of computers should not become the defining characteristic of what is called 21st century education but it has, and an education and social tragedy is unfolding. The defining characteristics of 21st century education should be the same as the defining characteristics of 20th century education (expressed above) before the neoliberal philosophy took hold. Those characteristics will be the central values of life in a democracy.

Another prime characteristic is the way the role of the teacher is defined. The role of the teacher as carried out in the past is first belittled, pouring water into bottles apparently while standing at the front holding forth (which seems quite a trick). And having established that, the 21st century teacher is then defined as being a facilitator (my hunch is that if that facilitator worked out from what to where and how, the facilitator would, in fact, be a teacher). One of the substantial problems with computer use and learning is the way it encourages or allows teacher to forgo their responsibilities (as I see it) to deepen and extend children’s learning before they go out on their own (so to speak). Learning experiences need an introduction (with all sorts of open questions and activities), gaining of knowledge (interestingly and pertinently), use of that knowledge (with investigation or activities), and a conclusion (presentation and discussion). But the 21st century way is to quickly hand it over to computers and inquiry learning, with the teacher congratulating him or herself on the independence being encouraged.

Education in a democracy should serve democracy but, at the moment, it doesn’t, it serves, through neoliberalism, the corporate culture. Education should serve the values of democracy, the developing of the holistic talents of the individual, and employment prospects in an authentic and integrated way, but it doesn’t. These three aims are not by nature exclusive of each other but they are increasingly made to be. The New Zealand school education system is a microcosm of the developing corporate state: the use of the big lie, propaganda, false statistics, and the most efficient and effective means of control – fear. The effect in schools is narrowing the curriculum, divesting the arts and critical thinking, and creating citizens unable to think their way out of a paper bag, conformist, fearful, and with a belief that following commands from the top is the only way. Another effect is to undermine public education both because it is public and because of its potential as a source of competing ideas and values. The corporate powers that be, and governmental systems expressing those, use their control of the present to use predictions of the future to bolster their control of the present.  Those in control emphasise a digital, corporate dominated future with an intolerant refusal to accept any other. They do not contemplate other futures, for instance, a breakdown in civilisation from climate change, a breakdown that could well strike in the lifetimes of school children today. Public education, on the other hand, should be about values, democratic values to prepare children for any number of futures, including one in which economic development is subordinate to environmental and humanistic imperatives and the attention is to a fairer sharing of less.

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5 Responses to The writers of the draft digital technologies have pulled a swift one

  1. Ian Skipper says:

    Digital devices should be regarded as just another tool to assist learning. Tools don’t always work, especially electronic ones.
    Learning needs to be multi dimensional – not just digitally centralralised.
    Learners do not learn all the same way.

  2. Catherine Delahunty says:

    Thank you very much for this, it sums up my concerns and provides a context which I sadly recognise as unquestioning corporatism . It’s also obvious that access to digital ‘fluency’ is deeply affected by inequality in schools – some kids get latest technology others do not even get lunch and have to line up to use the computer. And then what happened to drama and music advisers ?

  3. John Church says:

    As an extension to the school library, a computer (sorry, “digital technology”) is a wondrous instrument. As a teaching device, a computer (sorry, “digital technology”) is almost completely useless. And anyone who fails to understand and to apply this distinction should not be let anywhere near the construction of any kind of educational policy.

  4. Diana Russek says:

    First socialisation – and then teach them to speak and read with confidence, clarity and understanding and parallel to that develop some strength in mathematics with logical and critical thinking in a coherent fashion. Then maybe teach them a second language and maybe coding just fits in there somewhat later as another language.
    I suspect by the time we have done the first things first the next steps will be obvious.
    Diana Russek

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