Wednesday, 11 June 2008

ICT in Education

It goes without saying that technology will only grow as an important part of NZ life, and the NZ economy. Hence the standard of our education system in relation to ICT education is vital to us.

Now I missed it at the time, but the NZ Computer Society has had a panel of professionals spend a massive amount of time assessing 18 NCEA ICT-related Technology Achievement Standards, to see which which of them were most suitable in preparing for tertiary study and for end-user computing.

Their 119 page report is here. And for those who want the summary, the press release is here. They key paragraph:

NZCS Chief Executive Paul Matthews today said he was horrified to discover that not a single Technology Achievement Standard proposed for access to ICT and Computing met the set criteria. “Secondary School Computing education should be about preparing our young people for further ICT-related study and for computing in general” Matthews said today. “This report has found that New Zealand’s current ICT-related Technology Standards are failing terribly on both counts”.

The NZCS is the professional education and standards body in the ICT sector. So when they say 0 out of 18 NCEA standards meet the grade, you have a problem. TUANZ have also expressed their concern and their frustration at the lack of progress.

NZCS makes a number of recommendations:

  1. Creates appropriate achievement standards to address the assessment vacuum that exists in the area of Computer Science at the secondary school level.
  2. Recognizes that Computer Science is NOT a “technology”. Computer Science is about computation (numeracy), logic, and the study of algorithms and problem solving within a computational paradigm. It needs a syllabus which defines a coherent body of knowledge, relevant practices, and associated achievement standards.
  3. Removes computing from the grasp of the technology curriculum and align it with subject areas that are more relevant to the various disciplines. For Computer Science, Mathematics is the logical choice. End-user computing fits best with the subject areas that use the tools.
  4. Establishes a rationale for defining achievement level criteria. For example, in achievement standards which require production of a product, the sole criterion for achieving should be that the product works according to specification (bar minor deficiencies) - i.e. is fit for purpose. Merit criteria should require that the product works (as for achieved) and has desirable qualities (such as well-documented, efficient, easy to use, robust, maintainable, extendable, …) and excellence requires the previous criteria plus planning and other deliverables which relate to the particular practice (not necessarily Technology) that is being assessed.
  5. Creates externally assessed Achievement standards which assess a common body of knowledge under exam conditions similar to those available in the Mathematics curriculum.
  6. Re-moderates the technology achievement standards with a view to aligning the cognitive levels to the NQF level definitions.
  7. Surveys technology, computing, and potential computing teachers to gain insight on their perceptions of the value, relevance, and effectiveness of the existing technology achievement standards with respect to their effect on teaching workload and morale, and student attitudes towards computing as a future career.
  8. Surveys year 10 - 13 students (and their parents) across the country to determine what motivates them into choosing (or not choosing) computing as an area of study at tertiary level.

The next Minister of Education should be looking at these as a priority. Our skills shortage will only get worse if we don’t even made the grade with our own students.

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