I traveled to New Zealand last week thanks to a scholarship from NGS Superannuation. I wanted to explore the use of technology in New Zealand primary schools, with a particular reference to the use of technology to meet students’ literacy needs. I also wanted to see if and how technology was used to meet students’ language and literacy curriculum outcomes.
My first discovery was that the New Zealand curriculum is much less prescriptive than our NSW one, consisting of broad statements linked to each year of school. These statements are inquiry based and open to interpretation by each school.
The schools that I visited were using diagnostic tests such as PAT and e–asTTle to track their students. In New Zealand all these tests, apart from the writing, were conducted online giving teachers instant access to student results. There is currently no NAPLAN style testing, so there was no evidence of teachers feeling the need to endlessly prepare students for persuasive or narrative writing. Many of them talked about the use of online testing leading to much less emphasis on handwriting. The idea that Australian students still take long handwritten exams seemed strange and a big point of difference.
All the schools I visited had a broad and extensive range of technology available to all students. Including laptops, chrome books and Ipads. Many of them were also using a BYOD model. What was different to my school though was that only one of the schools I visited had ICT integration support. It was a generally expected view too that their teachers knew enough about using technology in the classroom to not need assistance. Consequently, although I saw technology in use everywhere, none of the schools appeared to be doing anything such as Scratch, coding or programming with their students.
Interestingly to me one of the key facts I noted was that without exception every school and every class I visited had a class and often student blogs. These class blogs were being used extensively with expectations that teachers would update these, at the very least, weekly. Teachers were using these class blogs to share student learning, as well as to post home learning requirements and communicate events to parents. The students were using their blogs to post work, reflect and respond to their learning. Many of these schools were using Google Apps, Google sites and Blogger. Yet most of them did not appear to be using anything, Blogs, Edmodo or social media to connect with and communicate with other students around the globe.
As I reflect on the learning I saw taking place, the teachers I met and the students I observed I realise of course, that this visit has reinforced my view that technology is a tool and in the right hands it can empower students and aid their learning. That students’ literacy skills and learning can be improved with technology; but that it is good teaching, from inspiring teachers who have high student expectations that are key to student success.
Image taken on my phone as I drove from Auckland to Wellington