Editorial: Digital education

Last updated 08:06 22/01/2013
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OPINION: The recommendation by Parliament's education and science committee, that every child in every New Zealand school should have access to a digital device such as an iPad as part of their classroom resource, is a seriously good idea that is probably not going to happen.

That recommendation, one of 48 from the committee released last month after it completed an inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy, could become a reality in most schools only if the Ministry of Education is given the money to implement it and there is little prospect in the current economic climate of that happening.

It is a laudable concept on several levels. National MP Nikki Kaye, who chaired the committee, said it would provide an opportunity to lead the world in digital literacy. "I think it's both beneficial at a social and economic level because if we can ensure that New Zealand students are the most digitally literate in the world they will have more opportunities both at an education level, but also at a job level."

However, it drew an understandable if predictable response from school principals and education academics: great idea but where is the money going to come from?

Even the spokespeople for higher decile schools acknowledged that without government funding implementing such a programme and requiring parents to pay for iPads, tablets or laptops for each of their children would quickly create a divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Salford School in Invercargill, a decile nine facility with a relatively affluent parent body, has been offering pupils the option of learning in a digital classroom for the past four years, but the uptake has been static because of the costs involved.

Other schools are making an even bigger financial commitment, with little government assistance, because they see digital technology as an essential tool and have parent bodies able to support them.

Wellington Girls' College spends about a quarter of a million dollars a year for IT, paying for broadband, computers and professional development, with only around $40,000 provided by the government because, according to principal Julia Davidson, giving learners access to online media, particularly sites such as YouTube, offered huge benefits in the classroom, allowing pupils to share resources, research and create content by using their own phones or tablets, or the school's.

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Even with the financial constraints, though, many schools in the south already have an enviable IT resource because of a programme begun almost a decade ago by the Invercargill Licensing Trust and later adopted by its counterpart in Mataura. The two trusts have spent millions of dollars supplying and maintaining whiteboards for every classroom in their areas.

The real plus with the programme is that pupils in the lowest-decile schools who may not have access to web-based learning tools at home are not disadvantaged.

The Invercargill trust has gone even further, providing computers for the city's kindergartens as well.

ILT Foundation chairman Alan Dennis says the trust sees the ongoing programme as an educational investment for the future. "We believe that having quality, up-to-date computers in all schools and early childhood centres is a must in this day and age."

Southern parents would be quick to agree with that sentiment.

- The Southland Times

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