The future may or may not be Finnish

Last Friday the 21st Century Learning Reference Group here in NZ released their "Future-focused learning in connected communities" report. The document is worth a read, but if you're busy, read the summary.

RadioNZ has already picked up the story, and reported these key points:

".. the ministry should recognise digital competencies as essential foundation skills.

Defining and refining what "digital competencies" actually are, and deciding how to measure them will be problematic. The NZ curriculum, as far as I'm aware does not contain any standards or frameworks for what this 'digital competence' may look like.

Let's put aside the flame-war related fodder like the debate about handwriting skills vs keyboarding skills, and actually look at a current measurable example of "digital competency".

The ICAS tests, provided by the UNSW in Australia are currently available to NZ schools. They provide assessment data on a range of subjects, including computer science.

Here's a practice paper from that specific assessment.

Test questions include:

Becky has a new scanner to use with her computer.

Which of the following will Becky be able to scan?
(A) text and sound
(B) images and text
(C) video and sound
(D) images and video

I'd argue we've a a lot of work to do before 2017. Because by then:

"... all school students in Year Four and above should be using their own digital devices for learning."

It's not enough to be able to access internet resources reliably and with some measure of curation, such as Pond and TKI we're now going aspire, within the next 1000 days no less, to have the infrastructure and technical knowledge available within all 2500 of our existing schools to provision and support every single school student above Year Four with a digital device.

That's just the technical aspects, I'm not even bothering to consider the shifts required in teacher capacity, and societal mental models around the purpose and veracity of these devices - that allows them to be a useful and effective part of learning.

Arguably it's in the areas that involve actual humans that the shift will require the most systemic and empathetic focus.


"... the Government should ensure early childhood services provide digital learning, and charities and businesses should help poor families buy digital devices for their children."

This frustrates me. If as a society we truly believe in the value of a shared public education, in my opinion, that same society shouldn't rely on charities and businesses to fund the public good.

At the same time as this report with a lot of future sounding points was published, Politico ran this story: Finns beat US with low-tech take on school.

Yep - the same Finland that many in our teaching profession hail as the edu-Nirvana, to which we should aspire to in all ways, says this:

Finnish students and teachers didn’t need laptops and iPads to get to the top of international education rankings, said Krista Kiuru, minister of education and science at the Finnish Parliament. And officials say they aren’t interested in using them to stay there.

The article also points out some of the pitfalls of trying to mass-deploy technology into the education sector:

When the Los Angeles Unified School District used $1 billion to give all students iPads and build the infrastructure to support their use, teachers last fall experienced trouble connecting to the Internet; students surfed prohibited websites; and district instructions for the devices were often confusing and misinterpreted.

I think there is value in the 21st Century Learning Reference Group report, but there is much to clarify and refine as we frame this potential future. This clarity needs be articulated in such a way that the recommendations can be made an effective reality.

NOTE: I realise in this post, I'm using the RadioNZ bullet points, not the specifics as outlined in the report. However, I believe the narrative of the RadioNZ's presentation will resonate with the public. The three that RadioNZ present are just three of a number in the report. But I believe for most people these are the points they will understand once you decipher the language of educational policy.

For that reason, I think it's fair to talk to the report in this manner. But I'm happy to be corrected in the comments.

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