Kiwi students being 'put off' computing

Last updated 08:43 26/05/2008

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Unrealistic and vague technology achievements standards are putting school pupils off tertiary courses and careers in the information technology industry, according to a highly critical report commissioned by the Computer Society.

The society commissioned a team of high-powered academics to investigate the 18 technology achievement standards approved by the Education Ministry as part of its National Qualifications Framework. They found none of them were appropriate.

Education Ministry spokesman Mike Bodnar said the ministry had not had time to consider the report but agreed assessment standards for computer science could be improved.

The ministry was undertaking "substantial work" on the senior school curriculum though its Digital Technologies Guidelines that would provide pupils with programmes that were "clearly focused on areas of future training and interest", he said.

But the report's authors – Auckland University of Technology lecturer Gordon Grimsey and Lynfield College computer teacher Margot Phillipps – say that using those guidelines to tackle the problems it identified would be "like painting over flaking paintwork adhering to rotten timber".

Several university professors were among a team of 11 academics and Computer Society office holders who reviewed their findings.

The number of secondary school pupils achieving unit standards in physics and calculus at NQF level 3 exceeded those achieving in computer science by a factor of five-to- one, the report found.

Many achievement standards were "unachievable" by most pupils or didn't assess pupils' competence in any detail. There were also "huge gaps" in the coverage of the skills and knowledge assessed.

"We suspect there is a huge number of potential computing professionals who have already opted out of the discipline during secondary school, either because of the lack of relevant achievement standards, or because of the unpalatable offering of what they are told is relevant for a future computing career," the report says.

The Computer Society commissioned the report after becoming concerned with the suitability of the assessment of ICT pupils at secondary school level and after discussions with the Post Primary Teachers Association.

Computer science needs to be given its own curriculum, which could be aligned with the mathematics curriculum, the report says. "Without this, we see the downward trend of computer science tertiary enrolments in New Zealand continuing. As a nation, we are spurning massive opportunities that come with having highly-skilled computing professionals in our workforce – something we can ill-afford to do.

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"The New Zealand curriculum document ignores ICT completely. There is no reference to ICT, IT, information technology or computing anywhere in the document."

The report noted there were few teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge to teach computer science in schools. But it said that if non-specialist teachers were to be encouraged to take these courses, "they should not be put in the position of trying to make unworkable standards work".

Education Minister Chris Carter announced last week that schools would get extra funding of $65.3 million over four years to help meet the costs of ICT.

- The Dominion Post

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