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Thoughts and reflections from the front line – a teacher’s voice in education technology

Susana Tomaz | STEAM Coordinator Westlake Girls High School | Across School Lead – Pupuke Kāhui Ako at Ministry of Education of New Zealand

Teaching the basics brilliantly, doesn’t have to mean back to basics!

As an experienced educator with over two decades of teaching and leadership in the field of education, I’ve witnessed how changes in government can significantly influence education policies. With the recent political developments resulting in a coalition government forming with the National and Act parties (for now), I’ve taken the time to analyse their education policies. Here are some of my reflections from the frontline.

One of the main focuses of National’s education policy is standardisation of the curriculum and returning to basics in mathematics, literacy, and science represents an effort to ensure students have a strong foundation. This is commendable, as mastering these fundamental skills is essential before diving into more complex, interdisciplinary subjects such as STEAM/STEM. However, if we are also standardising assessments,  it’s crucial that we rethink how we assess our students and use more authentic modes of assessment that reflect their progress and potential and are reflective of the job environment which is rich in collaborative learning opportunities. While standardisation has its advantages, especially during transitions between educational levels, it also raises concerns about potential stifling of creativity and diversity in teaching and learning.

Growing our talent pool for the future workforce

In a world where technology, artificial intelligence, and data analysis are increasingly relevant, we must prepare students for these new challenges. It worries me that the National education policy states that “The current curriculum focuses too much on soft skills” and makes no reference to developing technological skills. We are after all in the middle of the 4th industrial revolution. National’s education policy does aim to establish new partnership schools that focus on high-priority learners and specialist education areas, such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). This is exciting but it does raise the question of equity when it comes to preparing all learners for a digitalised and automated world in the era of AI. According to the World Economic Forum automation and globalisation are reshaping the world economy. Within the next four years, more than 5 million jobs are expected to be lost to robots. Bdeir, a TED senior fellow, and an alum of MIT’s Media Lab believes that 65% of jobs for the class of 2030 don’t even exist yet, so students need to learn a variety of skills to stay adaptable. From robotic vets to holoportation specialists.

The Future of Jobs Report 2023 

The fastest-growing roles relative to their size today are driven by technology, digitalisation and sustainability. This raises another question around upskilling teachers in digital education tools.

Student engagement and attendance

The declining attendance levels in New Zealand schools are a cause for concern. In Term 1 of 2023, 59.5% of students attended school regularly. This is reflective of problems within the education system which leads to under-performance. The introduction of an electronic attendance register and its real-time monitoring is a potential solution, suggested in Act’s policy which leads to  increasing accountability for both schools and parents. However, does it really address the core of the problem? The growing issue of student disengagement, partly due to the curriculum’s perceived lack of relevance and engaging/interactive experiences that involve developing collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability and technological skills.

Educational technology (EdTech) can help rekindle engagement by offering more personalised and interactive learning experiences. However, it’s crucial to overcome misconceptions about technology’s impact on learning,  when there is no clear data about the effectiveness/impact of the use of these inside the classroom. Simultaneously, there is a lack of parental regulation outside school, with many parents allowing young people to take their phones into the bedroom. The Growing Up Digital study in Australia found about a third of parents let their children go to bed with their smartphones every night and that 60 per cent of those children who were struggling at school slept with their phones.

Pasi Sahlberg, a professor of educational leadership in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, said taking phones to bed meant they were coming to school with less sleep, and a poorer quality of sleep, than in the past. But, he was quick to point out some students did learn better through the use of technology.

We must strike a balance between harnessing technology’s potential and addressing its challenges. Banning phone usage in school will not address the core of the issue.

Check out what can be created in the classroom by Year 10 students using mobile phones here.

Industry Collaboration

Act’s education policy emphasises the involvement of employers and tertiary institutions in shaping achievement and unit standards is a promising step toward better preparing students for the workforce and addressing the existing issue of under-prepared graduates and skills gap.

Co-designing the curriculum with industry input is a way to ensure that education aligns with workforce needs. This approach can bridge the gap between education and employment, better preparing students for their future careers while building our talent pool locally. In an ever-evolving world, our approach to education should be dynamic, accommodating new technologies, teaching methods, and learning outcomes. These are key factors to consider as we shape the education landscape for the future. Technology can equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the modern workforce. Teaching the basics brilliantly, doesn’t have to mean back to basics!

Further reading:

EdTechNZ EdTechNZ is the voice of EdTech in New Zealand, supporting the growth of the sector. Our purpose is to drive the creative use of technology, inside and outside the classroom, for better student outcomes. We aim to facilitate a world class education system for all New Zealanders and showcase local EdTech to the world.