13 Minority views

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Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy

This is the text of the report presented to the New Zealand Parliament in December 2012

To maintain the integrity of the report, please do not edit this page

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New Zealand Labour Party

Closing the digital divide

The New Zealand Labour Party generally supports the thrust of the Inquiry into 21st Century Learning Environments and Digital Literacy. We believe it has been a co-operative and collaborative process and acknowledge the goodwill and intent of all members. We support the bulk of the recommendations.

However, we do not believe the report has gone far enough, and there are a number of matters that we believe need strengthening and highlighting as they are central to addressing the core barriers to achieving equity of access for all New Zealanders to 21st century learning environments and digital literacy.

The New Zealand Labour Party would like to see New Zealand become a leader in the use of digital technology, to help transform New Zealand economically and socially. The future of our nation relies on our children becoming digital Kiwis. In order to realise this future we need to ensure all New Zealand children have equity of access to a 21st century learning environment and that all initiatives must be based on this core principle.

Our economic future will increasingly depend on weightless exports. This requires our children to be digitally literate to be future workers in the digital environment. There are compelling reasons to identify and break down any barriers.

The country must not have a digital divide. The New Zealand Labour Party believes some of our greatest innovation can come out of our most deprived areas. Any initiatives to enhance learning in the 21st century and digital literacy, including the new broadband network, must not result in an entrenching of the divide between the haves and the havenots.

As the majority report concedes, it is estimated (by the most up to date data) that around 20 percent of New Zealand households currently do not have a computer. Computers in Homes (2020 Communications Trust) has estimated that there are 100,000 families with dependent children who do not have access to a computer at home.

These unconnected homes are predominantly in lower socio-economic areas and are often home to Pasifika and Maori families where children are unable to participate equitably in digital learning and using technology. While programs such as Computers in Homes, Computer Clubhouse, and Aotearoa People’s Network do great work in increasing digital literacy, their success is sporadic because of limited and uncertain funding.

A key way to increase the connectedness and literacy of many New Zealand households is to leverage the education system by ensuring every child has access to a device. The effects of this absence, given the growing importance of Internet access, needs to be understood.

Clear evidence of harm could justify further interventions to ensure all families have a path towards access that is fair.

The New Zealand Labour Party believes that there are significant inequities between schools in access to high-speed broadband and the digital devices required for students to benefit from a 21st century learning environment. We believe that the report acknowledges some of these inequities but has not adequately addressed the solutions that are entrenching a digital divide. The New Zealand Labour Party believes that they need to be addressed urgently and a comprehensive digital divide strategy is needed.

  • We recommend prioritising the funding of systematic research, monitoring, and public reporting into the impacts of the digital age on New Zealanders, in particular the barriers for New Zealanders to access technology, the extent of the digital divide, and how investment can make a difference socially and economically.
  • We recommend priority investment and implementation in programmes to ensure equity of Internet access and access to digital devices for New Zealand children at school and at home regardless of their circumstances.

It is already existing New Zealand Labour Party policy to roll out a comprehensive e-learning policy to all Year 7–13 students. In the short term, the decile 1-3 schools and Kura Kaupapa Maori would be targeted as the priority in order to reach those students most vulnerable to disengagement, and most unlikely to have access to a computer at home. This will reduce the “digital divide.”

  • We recommend that the Government funds access for every student has access to a digital device for learning, including the appropriate age for such a policy.

Other barriers identified in the report include the ability of schools to afford to connect to ultrafast broadband given the existing pressures on their operational budgets.

We heard that services available for schools to achieve the transformation required for 21st century learning environments and digital literacy often depended on the existing abilities of talented individuals in schools, rather than a systematic programme of improvement to school environments, professional development, or to core services and extra resources.

We also heard a consistent level of uncertainty about the proposed Network for Learning and along with the Ministry of Education, the ability for 21st century learning environments and digital literacy to be achieved within the current governance framework. We believe it is critical that:

  • The Network for Learning be available to a high degree of public scrutiny and that the ministry’s role, capacity, and funding arrangements be closely monitored.

We do not believe that education services can be, nor should be, delivered through the private sector, but that the capabilities of the entities established to deliver the resources and services for 21st century learning utilise the best advice and draw from up to date evidence-based research.

In addition, the report identifies the important role that school libraries and community facilities are to provide learning environments. They are increasingly important as 21st century learning environments. For many children, and their parents, a community facility may be their only access to the Internet out of school hours. We do not believe the majority report has gone far enough in recognising the important role that school libraries and community facilities play.

  • We recommend that the Government consider how school libraries and community facilities can be 21st century learning environments.
  • We recommend that the Government enable local government to ensure free Internet access via public libraries for out-of-school learning as a valuable community resource.

We also do not believe the report goes far enough in highlighting the essential role of 21st century learning and digital literacy for preparing our children for careers in the industries of the future on which our economy needs to be based.

We know that ICT skills, knowledge, and understanding are essential for almost all jobs. However, the high-tech industries, and in particular the ICT industries and almost any job upon which contributes to New Zealand’s intellectual property is one which will involve digital knowledge.

  • We believe stronger career pathways to these jobs must be prioritised in any strategy for 21st century learning and digital literacy.

Finally, we clearly acknowledge the important role that the community plays in ensuring that transformational change can be successful parents in particular must take on board the impact of the 21st century learning environment has on their children’s out-of-school home life and the barriers that exist for equity of access.

  • We believe that close engagement is necessary between government, the education sector, and the wider community on these issues.

We believe that collaboration means just that, that imposing change on our education system cannot be successful without a high level of community buy-in.

We also note that ironically, despite a high level of support for a collaborative and cooperative education model for 21st century learning in the development of this report, many of the National Government’s actual education policies are geared toward competition and erecting barriers to collaboration.

We do not believe that the majority report tackles all of these issues head on. We believe the Government has an important role in showing leadership on this issue. We look forward to the Government’s response.