A different kind of education revolution



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The Innovation Partnership wants to see training for teachers on how to teach in modern classrooms and appropriate teaching methods to go alongside investment in digital technologies because devices alone can’t achieve better educational outcomes. MURRAY SHERWIN argues the case.

Murray SherwinEducation is no stranger to supposed technological revolutions. Radio, television, and smart whiteboards were all supposed to lift educational achievement. Of course, none of them did.

In 2014, educators are once again faced with a technology that is supposed to revolutionise education – digital devices.

But this revolution is different.

The 21st Century Learning Reference Group recently issued its report, Future Focused Learning in Connected Communities, which examined how the Government should respond to the digital revolution. It calls for immediate investment in digital education, with digital devices for all students Year Four and above by 2017.

We know, however, that not all educators are convinced that students need devices. They rightly observe that digital devices are not an educational panacea and that, alone, they will do nothing to increase achievement.

We couldn’t agree more. The real benefits of devices lie in the innovative approaches to teaching and learning which devices and connectivity enable, and those benefits are in evidence right now at schools all around New Zealand.

The Manaiakalani Education Trust in Auckland is leading the way in using digitally enabled learning to dramatically increase educational achievement. There are many lessons that can be learnt from this development, which show doubters that such improvement is possible if they are prepared to think differently about their approach.

Research from 2013 by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre shows a major increase in educational achievement across the 12 schools involved in Manaiakalani. Particular improvement has been seen across the cluster in writing and mathematics. At Tamaki College, NCEA Level 2 pass rates have improved from 26 per cent in 2005, to 51 per cent in 2012, to an incredible 80 per cent in 2013.

There are several keys to the success of Manaiakalani:

The students own their own devices, with families paying as little as $3.50 per week to pay them off. This personal ownership model has proven invaluable – parents experience the power that comes from being a direct investor in their child’s education and children who own their devices respect and care for them.

The children are able to share their learning with the parents. As they own their devices, they take them home at the end of the day. Through Wi-Fi networks established throughout the community, they can continue to learn at home.

Manaiakalani has developed its own digitally appropriate pedagogy: Learn, Create, Share. Children first learn a new piece of knowledge or skill, and then create based on their learning. Finally, they share what they have learnt and created online via their own blogs that are publically accessible. Parents and family are able to directly engage with what their children are learning, and they have become far more involved in their children’s education.

Every day, the Manaiakalani Trust receives requests from other school clusters that want to know how they can replicate its success. Already, in Porirua, Otaki, Kaikohe, and Mt Roskill, early adopters are working off this model in their own low decile schools. Throughout New Zealand, schools are working hard to get the right approach to using devices and the Internet.

There is one more vital piece to this puzzle: capability. Teachers must know how to teach in digital learning environments different from today’s classroom. Upskilling existing teachers and training new graduates in how to teach in new environments is the last, yet most important step.

To this end, Manaiakalani, with the support of Innovation Partnership members, has initiated a Digital Teacher Academy, which is giving a handful of teaching graduates experience in digital classrooms while they complete a post graduate degree in Digital Education. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the investment needed in teacher training if we are going to truly unlock the potential of devices in education.

The Government has put over $700 million in digital infrastructure for schools but much more needs to be done to increase teachers’ capabilities in this area, to ensure a return on this significant investment.

The Innovation Partnership is calling on New Zealand’s education leaders to review teacher training and professional development, and to ensure that digital devices are being matched with appropriate teaching methods. Without that investment, devices will go the way of all the other technological advances before them – yet another failed education revolution.

The Innovation Partnership is a group of organisations dedicated to New Zealand becoming a world leader in using the internet to drive business growth, public sector excellence, and educational achievement.

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