A Digital Curriculum for the next generation

An Information Revolution

The internet has fundamentally changed the way that people interact with each other and with information. These changes need to be mirrored by changes in education curricula; technical skills should be taught of course, but formal education also ought to address the ethical and social implications of living in and alongside the cyberworld.

The New Zealand Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum

A principal goal of the New Zealand Government’s 2014 National Strategic Plan for Science in Society was to support all young New Zealanders to be resilient learners with future-proofed skills to understand, assess and apply rapidly changing science and technology knowledge to their everyday lives. In pursuit of this goal the Ministry of Education embarked on a process to strengthen the Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum, which forms part of the Technology Learning Area of the curriculum for Years 1 to Year 13 (5 to 18 year olds).

Publicly available information says that the Ministry of Education “worked closely with experts in the education sector and with the digital technologies industry to develop early drafts of the curriculum content” and “this combined international experience and New Zealand research on key learning in digital technologies. I have made an Official Information Request (equivalent of FOIA) for more details about which countries’ experiences this drew on.

In late 2017 the New Zealand Ministry of Education consulted the public on the draft digital technology curriculum through workshops, online surveys, and by accepting written submissions. The stated aims of the curriculum are helping to develop digitally capable thinkers, producers and creators. The Technology Curriculum learning area has three strands: Technological Practice, Technological Knowledge and Nature of Technology. These three strands are embedded within each of five technological areas:

  • computational thinking for digital technologies
  • designing and developing digital outcomes
  • designing and developing materials outcomes
  • designing and developing processed outcomes
  • design and visual communication.

The Ministry received 33 written responses and over 500 survey responses to its consultation (link to report on submissions received).

Reintroducing the "People-impact" to a Technological Society

Responses highlighted privacy, security and safety, and social impacts as omissions and areas that could be strengthen in the draft curriculum (see figure 10 in the report). These comments were echoed in the workshops. Ethics is mentioned only once in the curriculum and being a digital “citizen” appeared to be synonymous with a citizen with digital skills and knowledge, rather than requiring a level of social and civil engagement.

We need to train our students to consider the social and ethical impacts of the programs and developments they create at the point of creation. It is not good enough to say “I’m just an engineer” to absolve any responsibility for possible ill uses of a creation or development. This culture change - reintroducing an awareness of the impact of technology on real people - starts with teaching our students to critically think about the effects of technology and how it is presented. In the “nature of technology” strand of the curriculum students develop an understanding of technology as a discipline and learn to critique the impact of technology on societies and environment. I would hope this aspect includes a critical exploration about the manipulation of human behavior or thinking – how a product can be designed to present information to trigger a particular thought, or elicit a particular response.

In response to the question: Is learning about privacy / intellectual property / responsible use of digital devices part of the new curriculum? The Ministry responds: Many of these topics will be involved in Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko learning – for example, students will consider ethics and the impacts of products they design on people. Additionally, these topics align against the key competencies within the National Curricula, and would be seen as an important part of self-management learning in in this digital age. The Ministry acknowledges the role for parents in this “Help your children understand that digital technologies gives them the tools; but they still need to know how to work together, communicate, lead, make ethical decisions and plan in order to succeed."

A step in the right direction

New Zealand’s digital technologies curriculum is a step in the right direction. It goes beyond simply furnishing school-age children technical skills encouraging them to critique and think the impact of the technology on society. I would like to see a stronger emphasis on ethics and the social impacts of technology and it is encouraging to see that the ethics and digital citizenship was an area that the public felt strongly enough to comment on. I wonder what the public responses would be had this consultation taken place after the Cambridge Analytica tactics came to light.

I look forward to seeing how the curriculum is applied in schools and how it adapts to new technologies and social challenges that are raised in the future. -- By RebeccaBonnevie - rewrite 6 Apr 2018