Monday, 27 June 2016

Digital Division Across NZ Schools

If we were to describe the position of technology in education now, what term or phrase would we use? We seem to bandy certain terms around such as 'digital revolution', '21st century education', 'digital classrooms'...and so on but I'm not sure we understand where we are really at in the journey towards digital integration in education, as a country. I suggest that across the country we are on a large continuum of technology evolution.. ranging from schools with 3 or 4 working devices in classrooms to 'paperless' schools with one-to-one devices.
In my opinion there are 4 main areas that need to be addressed before we can truly move forward and claim to be part of a 'digital revolution' as a nation.

1. Lack of devices in schools
2. Lack of computers/internet in homes
3. Lack of teacher knowledge
4. Lack of access to quality digital resources

1. Lack of devices in schools
This situation reminds me of how I feel every time I'm silly enough to read the 'Sunday' pullout section of the NZ Herald. Whenever I do it quickly becomes clear to me that I am certainly not the target market for that paper. I don't usually have vanilla pods lying around my pantry for that sensational recipe and I certainly don't have that large house and garden that's being showcased with vintage furniture. I just cannot relate. In fact, it can leave me feeling as though I'm out of step with everyone else...when in reality I'd wager that the majority of us actually feel the same way.
I can imagine that schools and educators with very few up to date and operational devices or with a lack of digital knowledge feel similarly out of touch when they read an educational article discussing 'the digital revolution' in NZ schools? What revolution? In some cases, schools are struggling to do a quarter turn, let alone a revolution.

2. Lack of computers/internet in homes
I've spoken with secondary and primary teachers in schools where by far the majority of kids don't have access to the internet or computers at home. This is a problem. Technology is supposed to open networks of communication between home and school...but that's not always the case. I've been there myself as a teacher...slogging away trying to get a class blog going so that parents and family can contribute to classroom life (and because it was the 'in' thing to do at the time) and then giving up 6 months later after realising that many families didn't have easy access to computers/the internet.
More schools are starting to use online document sharing so that students, families and teachers all have access to the student's work, homework and they can provide feedback etc. I wonder how this works in homes where there is no access to the internet? I wonder how that then translates back to a divide in the classroom? My own children have been in this predicament....they were required to provide printed copies of their online work and we had no working printer at the time. No, the school wouldn't provide printing. I wondered how hard that was for families who don't even have a working computer, let alone a printer.

According to the Digital Technology In Schools, 2014 Report, "Decile 4-6 and 7-10 schools were significantly more likely to report communicating with the wider community/whanau...."

Schools are pushing for a seamless digital journey (as they have probably been encouraged to do) and yet not all families can buy a ticket for that journey. Those families are on the footpath chasing after the bus and waving desperately. If this problem isn't addressed it won't be a 'digital revolution', it will be a massive 'digital divide'.

3.Lack of teacher knowledge
This is not teacher bashing. Teachers are over-worked and over-whelmed with ongoing changes and constant revolutionary educational of these changes is the need to ensure that students are digitally fluent. What does that mean? It seems that some schools/teachers are unsure what this really means. I have heard of schools having students complete maths worksheets online, worksheets with no enhancements apart from the fact that the answers are marked for the teachers....who is this benefiting? In those cases, students are spending too much time on formatting issues or clunky designs which require lots of scrolling to view question and answers instead of focusing on the learning at hand. Some students are craving old-fashioned pen and paper worksheets. Apparently, in one school, when students were asked whether they preferred to do their maths work online or on paper, the majority voted for paper. Now, we all know most students love working with technology so the issue must lie with the types of tasks being presented. In many cases we are still just substituting traditional paper for digital paper. I believe that many teachers still don't feel confident (or have the time) to redesign the learning experiences in their classroom in order to use technology in authentic ways that are beneficial to student learning.

"Of note, only 11 percent of responding schools reported their school did not need further support and was ready for N4L, In contrast, approximately three-quarters of schools (72 percent) said their teachers needed further professional development support in using digital technologies for teaching and learning" 
Digital Technology In Schools, 2014 Report

3.Lack of access to quality digital resources
I don't miss the days of trawling the internet looking for that 'just right' digital learning activity for my students and although I believe there is an increasing number of quality and accessible digital learning resources out there, this is still an issue for teachers. There is a plethora of resources available online of varying quality....but who has the time to go through them all? And when you do finally find something decent you discover it's full of US spelling or something else which makes it unsuitable. I think (or at least I hope) we have moved beyond the days of thinking that solely sending students off to play free educational games is effective digital pedagogy. You would never provide worksheets for you students without being completely sure what was on them or throw them away afterwards without providing feedback.....which is essentially what is happening with many of those free online games. There are digital resources out there which provide a personalised learning journey for the student and progress information for the teacher; resources which allow for interaction between student and teacher based on the learning within the digital resource. How many schools are using quality resources such as those I wonder?

What is being done to address these issues and the digital division across schools in New Zealand?
I would love to hear how things are going in your own school.....

Digital Technology In Schools, 2014 Report
Research New Zealand
Report prepared by 2020 Commission


  1. Thanks Mandy, this is an insightful post. I can see some correlations between the four points, which as inspired some wonderings too.

    Lack of devices – school and at home: These two are related I feel. Schools manage this differently depending on their vision of learning and how they allocate resourcing to enable that vision to come to fruition. The Manaiakalani cluster (low decile area in Point England) had a vision to ensure all of their families/whānau/fono would have an equal shot at purchasing devices and access to the Internet at home. An inspiring project that goes beyond school. My question, how can schools create learning environments with equity in mind – where all children can access to the Internet at school and at home (if they have a home)?

    Teacher knowledge and digital resources: I also feel these two points are related. Good point about lack of time for teachers. This is true when you think about the exponential growth in digital knowledge and resources. How can a busy teacher know about all of this? If schools have a vision for learning that has an e-learning lens, then there is also an expectation that resourcing and PLD would align to enable teachers to infuse digital technologies into teaching and learning authentically and appropriately. We can’t assume that teachers know about available resources, or how to use them effectively, after all this isn’t every teacher’s wheelhouse - hence some dedicated time to help unpack effective e-learning pedagogy and practice is needed.

    If you’re thinking along these lines, I thinking there’s a great group in the VLN you might like, Mandy focused on effective use of digital technologies and mathematics You’ll need to join the community and the group to comment. There’s also a dedicated group to support teachers as they grapple with all things e-learning, with sub-groups to support more conversations as well. These community groups sit alongside the main website We’d love to hear from there too.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have definitely been interested in those schools/clusters that have been finding innovative ways of allowing equal access for their students.

    "My question, how can schools create learning environments with equity in mind – where all children can access to the Internet at school and at home (if they have a home)?"

    A great question and one that absolutely needs to be addressed.

    "If schools have a vision for learning that has an e-learning lens, then there is also an expectation that resourcing and PLD would align to enable teachers to infuse digital technologies into teaching and learning authentically and appropriately"

    In terms of resourcing - yes. I think appropriate and effective resources are key....and teachers shouldn't necessarily be the ones scrounging around to find them. Schools and our education system need to provide these resources.

    PLD - I agree teachers need PLD, but what they DON'T need is one or two staff meetings of PLD and then NO TIME to implement the new ideas. PLD hasn't been all that effective in the past as schools tend to dish out PLD and then move on to the next idea before really managing and leading change. Teachers need time to re-design their learning programmes and to change their pedagogy.

    Thanks for the links - I will check them out.

  3. Absolutely agree! How do you like to learn Mandy? Just in time? When you have a need (for you and your students)? When you have a passion? Sometimes and/or all the time? Meeting individual needs of teachers is very important, we're just like our kids really. Gone are the days where we're all ready to learn the same thing at the same time...PLD looks very different now, in fact, teachers are leading their own PLD @ and

    Mentors are everywhere.... just like me finding your post!

    1. Loved your blog regarding teachers doing it for themselves. I do wish though, that teachers weren't doing it as an add-on. I feel that schools needs to get innovative about ways of giving teachers time e.g. every second week no staff meeting, but PLD time instead. PLD time for teachers needs to be truly valued within schools.

    2. Yes, yes and more yes! Here's a story I captured of a very innovative leader who did just that for his teachers gave the time to learn in school for themselves... definitely a school worth visiting too (pt1) (pt2) and (pt3).

    3. Fantastic! What an inspirational principal! I've always felt that there are many ways teachers can be released for the purpose of improving their practice and in some cases it's a shift in the mental models some school leaders have. Some school leaders unfortunately view CRT as ample time for teachers to use, however, we all know that this time is often used up with testing, paperwork, creating resources, working one-to-one with students and so on. School leaders need to support their teachers and value their time/understand the pressures they are under and provide innovative solutions as the principal of Ngatea did. I love the use of webinars/skype/collaborative groups/digital networks etc. Hopefully other schools will see cases like this and find their own innovative, timely and connective ways of providing their teachers with quality PLD. Thanks so much for sharing.

    4. Thank you for sharing too, love how you're inviting us to add to your thoughts - like I said... inspirational, thanks Mandy. Stay in touch :-)

    5. Thanks Tessa I have loved your contribution. I would love it if you were to join my Facebook group: