Monday, 13 July 2009

Overhaul for school IT Classes

From todays Dominion Post

Overhaul for school IT Classes

Children in year 9 and below may benefit from what the Computer Society is heralding as the biggest overhaul in IT education in 20 years.

That is as long as students are fortunate enough to be at schools with the skills to teach the subject.

A Digital Technologies course that will cover computer programming, electronics and computer networking, as well as "softer" disciplines revolving around the application of technology, should be taught in schools from 2011.

The Education Ministry established a panel of experts to investigate possible improvements to IT education last year.

That was in the wake of a scathing report by the Computer Society that warned unrealistic and vague technology achievement standards were putting students off tertiary courses in information technology and careers in the industry.

The ministry has been working with the society to address the concerns. Students will be able to attain new NCEA level 1, 2 and 3 achievement standards that will be phased in between 2011 and 2013.

But Digital Technology Expert Panel chair Marg McLeod says it will be up to schools whether they teach the Digital Technologies course and, if they do, which parts.

At the moment, there is little teaching of computer programming or other core aspects of computer science, she says.

"Part of that is because we don't have a teaching force who have that particular expertise. One of the things that will need to happen is the development of more teachers with the capability to teach in those areas, and that involves balancing student demand and teacher supply.

"There will be people who don't have the competence to teach computer science and programming and so what they will hone in on is the applications. But in talking with industry and the universities there is a real willingness to assist with teacher development."

The panel's recommendations were nevertheless "groundbreaking, in that they were a recognition that we need to be offering those things earlier in the schooling system than at the tertiary level", she says.

The economic downturn might draw people with technical skills into the teaching profession but Ms McLeod was not aware of any anecdotal evidence that was happening yet. "It is probably a bit early. I know the job market in ICT is very competitive as well. It is an area of undersupply."
The panel recommended ICT professionals and tertiary experts developed the "body of knowledge" an unofficial curriculum that would underpin the Digital Technologies course. Ideally, ICT should become part of the school curriculum in its own right, but this was not pragmatic as there was an urgent need to improve teaching of the subject, the panel's report said.

Computer Society chief executive Paul Matthews said the society was proud to have been one of the catalysts to bring about long overdue change.

Comment from the listserve
This morning's DomPost heralds the Computer Society's work with the Ministry to overhaul ICT educationion and article suggests that students in Year 9 and below may benefit from the shakeup.

The formation and operation of the DTEP is explained with Marg McLeod expressing priorities on getting the framework right (phasing in from 2011 to 2013) and her concerns over the lack of teachers skilled in teaching in this discipline. In her view, there will have to be a balance between student demand and teacher supply.

Most of us know the troubled history of ICT in secondary schools but what took my attention was the very first paragraph which suggested that Year 9's and below may benefit from what Paul Mathews (NZCS) called 'long overdue changes'. Now, that's a measure of advanced thinking! I wonder if the Ministry's planning for this aspect has started?

And guess what? The Computer Society's list of schools wanting to take part in the schools based ICT-Connect programme includes a number of intermediate and primary schools. So yes, it's about time we took more notice of that virtual lake of talent in the junior schools. And it's also about time we started planning to enhance both ends of the student continuum.

Our students *should* have clear pathways in our discipline from the junior school through to tertiary or the workforce. The article mentions the DTEP's recommendation of an 'unofficial curriculum'. 'Unofficial' anything seems a bit second class.

But there's no cheese in the mousetrap. We've been told time and time again that we lack teachers in the core IT subjects - teachers at all levels - teachers in *any* of the disciplines (sigh!)

I've said this before but it's worth saying again - big secondary schools have trouble recruiting skilled/expert ICT teachers - small secondary schools find it ever so much more difficult largely because of collegial (ICT) isolation. Heaven only knows how the junior schools are coping. Let's face it - ICT teachers enjoy fine cheese. We definitely need some cheese!

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