The Government says it will review the position of information technology within the school curriculum and try to reverse a slide in the quality of science education.
A report released today by the Education and the Business, Innovation and Employment ministries said there had been a gradual decline over years 11–13 in the proportion of students enrolled in science-related subjects and that students’ performance in science had also declined.
“The average performance of New Zealand year 5 students for science in 2010-11 was significantly lower than in 2002-03 and there has been no significant change in performance for year 9 students since 1994-95,” it said. Lifting engagement and achievement in science education was “absolutely vital”.
Ian McCrae, chief executive of health software firm Orion Health, last year called for information technology to become a scholarship academic subject in schools, compulsory in years 9 and 10 and treated at least equally to the major sciences.
“Digital technology in schools is lumped in with metalwork, sewing and food technology and consequently kids consider it to be a bum subject; it is not attracting the very academic kids who are going to do things like chemistry and physics. We have taught people how to use Powerpoint but we aren’t teaching kids logic, algorithms and programming,” he said.
Accounting software firm MYOB's New Zealand director and product development manager Trevor Leybourne said reforms to the curriculum would help address the ongoing skills shortage in the New Zealand ICT industry.
It would also provide more opportunities for young people entering the workforce, he said.
“Everything that takes place in business now, and in the future, relies on digital technologies, so it’s important that students get exposure to ICT as early as possible."
Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said the New Zealand Qualifications Authority was already working on developing achievement standards for computing. "There is some amazing innovative practice happening around things like coding and what is traditionally called computer science," she said.
"What would be really great would be to see more opportunity for the sharing of best practice, for collaboration between teachers who are leading this around the system, and for more professional development to keep teachers abreast of the opportunities for the subject area."
The strategy also included steps to encourage more youth, in particular girls, into science and technology-based careers.
"I think it's great people understand the importance of hooking into kids' imaginations when it comes to whatever subject it is."
Paul Matthews, chief executive of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals, who has also called for an elevation in the status of ICT within the curriculum, said the report released by the ministries was only a “review” and a first step.
“But we would very surprised if it didn’t result in change.The Government and industry and pretty much everyone else understands we do need to deal with this,” he said.
The report said student achievement in science was declining in part because science teachers weren’t always confident in teaching science and did “not always have access to the appropriate resources”.
The Government would establish an initiative to support schools and teachers to “build confidence and access resources to develop rich, contextualised science programmes that are exciting for students”, it said.
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