New Zealand- on the way to being a world leader?

The first of two guest blogs by Dr Paul Kelley

One of the major changes in the education world is the rise of the Western Pacific in international studies of student achievement. The education systems that seem to perform well – Shanghai, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and New Zealand all have shown a willingness to overcome difficulties to improve outcomes. Most of these countries have made significant economic gains as well. Is it the turn of New Zealand to transform the experience of their students for the better?

On the surface, that won’t be easy, especially in Technology. The terrain in New Zealand is beautiful, but it is hardly designed for rapid deployment of technology, particularly internet technology. Yet it looks like that is exactly what New Zealand is going to do- bring the whole country‘s education system into an Ultra Fast Broadband Network for Learning (or, in our acronym-ridden world, UFB N4L). It certainly makes sense – New Zealand is a low population country and such a system would offer a fantastic way to bring teachers, students and families together in learning.

New Zealand will also be able to avoid the follies of other countries in deploying large-scale Technology solutions in Education. Some of the worst examples are closed systems where there isn’t interoperability with other technologies- in other words, New Zealand shouldn’t create an educational silo where all the content is produced- at great expense- by companies, and the software infrastructure is programmed in a special way for the project. The National Health IT system disasters in the UK have shown that doesn’t work. For New Zealand, the ambition appears to be bringing the whole nation together in learning, and build the digital expertise of the nation.

Now they have secured funding , New Zealand are looking at how to make the best system (and make the biggest impact on student outcomes) through an open public inquiry. This very approach suggests New Zealand is going to get a lot right. In my five years on the Board of BECTA and Chair of its Education Committee (BECTA was the UK NGO leading on technology in education) , there weren’t public consultations on policy. So rather than politicians making announcements and the Ministry of Education having to play catch up – or the Ministry creating a new organisation run by education experts to decide on IT solutions (or even worse, asking IT experts to decide on education solutions) – they are asking people and organisations what they think. Good for them.

Of course it isn’t that simple politically. The Chair of the Education and Science Select Committee, Nikki Kaye, makes the political challenge clear:

The select committee is evenly split between Government and Opposition MPs. In order for the motion initiating the inquiry to be passed, an Opposition member on the committee must vote in favour of the motion.

Nikki Kaye is being brave, I think, to push for consulting widely- it is easier to have government officials write plans- it keeps everything in political control. And she’s wise in trying to ger the political parties to agree, since a project of this size needs long-term support. It’s interesting that she feels the right thing to do is ask everybody what they think, and this may reflect that, as a young digital native, she naturally uses social networks.

There are weaknesses in all education systems, and New Zealand is no exception. Yet maybe they can create the world’s first open (‘interoperable’ in IT jargon) digital network for learning that really delivers the paradigm shift education needs. Let’s hope they do.

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