'Major flaw' spurs call for IT course review

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2013

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New secondary school computing courses designed to create more highly skilled workers are proving too hard for many students and teachers.

Now worried principals are calling for a review of the curriculum as IT experts predict a "major dilemma" ahead unless the training and recruiting of teachers are improved.

Computer course numbers have dropped since the new curriculum was introduced in 2011, mainly because earlier courses, which focused on basic skills, were considered a "bum class" for students wanting to pick up easy NCEA credits.

The new curriculum, which focuses on computer programming and web design, is much more advanced.

As a result, less able students are dropping out, while brighter ones are not signing up because the subject is still considered an easy option.

Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh backed the call for a curriculum review, saying the courses are too hard and there needs to be a wider range of standards available.

"One teacher in our school, who I would regard as being quite savvy in ICT, has said some of the standards are equivalent to a level 2 paper at university.

"So that's quite out of step with what we would normally expect year 13 students to have to do."

Waikato University computer science PhD student Michael Walmsley Jr said the idea that studying ICT was a "waste of time" or for "geeks and nerds" needed to change.

Students starting secondary school this year have not lived in a world without the internet. Most have been raised with laptops, smartphones, video games and social media.

And, according to Moore's Law, computer technology will quadruple in power by the time these students finish high school in 2017.

"We accept that it's an evolving area of technology, it's really important for our economy," Mr Walmsley said.

The Institute of IT Professionals New Zealand chief executive, Paul Matthews, was on the expert panel that developed the new curriculum.

He said ICT, which is a $19.3 billion industry in New Zealand, was expanding at a rapid rate and that it was essential schools were equipping students with the skills to fill the growing number of jobs.

"The technology industry as a whole is growing at a great pace and the export side of the industry has got massive potential.

"But the No 1 thing that's holding back industry is the fact that we just simply can't get enough people with the right skills."

A major flaw in the implementation of the new curriculum was the lack of resources provided by the Ministry of Education for training and recruiting capable teachers, he said.

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Many schools had been unable to offer the new curriculum at all NCEA levels because of a shortage of staff with the skills to teach it.

"We see a major dilemma approaching in that there's not enough teachers now, a bunch of them are retiring and no effort's really gone in to finding more," he said.

- Waikato Times

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