Three tech leaders sign open letter criticising Hekia Parata's curriculum changes

Education Minister responds. With special feature audio.

Last week, Education Minister Hekia Parata made "digital technology" part of the curriculum down to Year 1.

Orion Health chief executive Ian McCrae wasn't happy. 

“It is disappointing to have waited so long for so little," he told NBR.

"After six years of waiting, a 12-month review process, and seven months of deliberation by Hekia Parata and her Ministry, all there is to show for it are some minor changes, including a pledge for more consultation."

Mr. McCrae's main beef: Computing is still lumped in with other vocational subjects, like woodwork and sewing.

He wanted it to be a standalone academic subject with equivalent status to science and maths.

The Orion boss – whose fast-growing software company has 1200 staff, mostly based in Auckland – says being lumped in with the likes of metal work turns pupils off digital technology, ultimately leading to a shortage of graduates in the area and Orion's need to hire from offshore. 

NBR thinks he has a point. After all, high tech is now our third largest export sector after dairy and tourism and brings much-needed diversity to our economy. 

Another beef with Ms. Parata's announcement: No extra funding was provided to train teachers for digital technology.

Below, Mr. McCrae joins fellow tech leaders Francis Valintine and Ian Taylor in penning an open letter to Ms. Parata.

NBR has asked the Education Minister for a response [UPDATE: scroll down for response]


OPEN LETTER

Dear Hon Hekia Parata,

We acknowledge your announcement last week of modest changes to the Digital Technology curriculum for New Zealand schools, following a long review period. This review presented a huge opportunity for the future of New Zealand and the success of our children. However, we believe that the fundamental problems with this subject have not been addressed. Consequently, unless your ministry takes a bolder stance, our children will continue to be educationally disadvantaged and under-skilled for high-paying tech jobs. In addition, tech sector growth will continue to be hindered and we will become increasingly reliant on immigration for technical staff.

As has been highlighted on many occasions, the root cause of the problem is that digital technology is taught as a non-academic vocational subject alongside woodwork, metalwork, cookery and sewing. This situation has to change if we are to attract academic and skilled students into an industry that is already a significant driver of our country's economic growth. The first essential change is that digital technology has to be separated from these vocational subjects and become a standalone subject of significance, on a par with maths and science. Our secondary school students should be presented with an academic option developing their ability to understand computer logic, code and design.

There were many excellent recommendations to come out of the 12-month review in 2015 that was carried out by the Ministry of Education, Industry, educationalists and others such as the Institute of IT Professionals, but adoption of these recommendations has mostly been ignored.
In today's world, technical and digital literacy is of equal importance to English literacy and it is essential that progress be made in the way we educate and prepare our children.

It has taken six years to get to this point, including a 12-month review and a further seven months of deliberations. Minister Parata, how much longer do our children have to wait?
Time is of the essence as the pace of technological change accelerates every day. Every month we deliberate, every year we spend on reviews, results in another group of children missing out. We are writing not only as members of the tech community but also as parents. We ask that you treat this matter with urgency. It is too important for our children, our industry and the future success of our nation. 

Signed

Ian McCrae, founder and chief executive Orion Health

Frances Valintine, founder and chairwoman The Mind Lab

Ian Taylor, founder and CEO Animation Research


Hekia Parata responds

The Education Minister sent the below statement to NBR. 

NBR has also invited Ms Parata to appear on NBR Radio. She declined, citing travel.

“Digital technology, like the rest of the curriculum is for academic and applied learning," Ms Parata says.

"The change we’re making means a child will start learning about digital technologies from when they start school and can choose to continue with it all the way through to Year 13, leading on to specialist training for a digital career.

"The fact that digital technologies are so ubiquitous means they can’t be boxed into one learning area of the curriculum, independent from those other areas of technology which are also part of the digital transformation.

"Our young people need to be prepared to use digital technologies in all industries from automotive engineering to biotechnology.”

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