There’s an old proverb from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that says, ‘Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.’
In education we have been giving students fish (knowledge) for years. This model ensured that the teacher remained the primary conduit for education as the teacher was the focal point of knowledge. However, the last twenty years has seen a technological explosion that has rendered the knowledge based teacher largely obsolete and seen education become student centred and primarily skills based. In other words, education is now geared towards teaching the student to fish, and most importantly, education wants to help the student to learn to teach themselves how to fish.
By teaching a student to learn to fish for themselves, teachers are providing a more valuable service to the students. Students learn how to problem solve, present, and craft their knowledge developments into new and exciting modes of communication. This makes a student a better employee in the future as their skill sets make them creative researchers, problem solvers, and presenters.
So what has enabled this transition? Well, the modern device (smart phone, laptop, etc.) has already rendered the supercomputer of the 1990s obsolete, and within a few seconds, a technologically able student can access more up to date information on their devices than any one teacher can hope to learn in a lifetime. Technology lies at the heart of the modern technological revolution but it isn’t without its problems. The US National Intelligence Council’s (2017) ‘Global trends: The Paradox of Progress’ paper noted that, ‘Technology is accelerating progress but causing discontinuities. Rapid technological advancements will increase the pace of change and create new opportunities but will aggravate divisions between winners and losers.’
In New Zealand, the most visible trend associated with the technological revolution is the school based policy of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The Network 4 Learning noted in a 2015 survey of 700 schools, that 65.7% of decile 8-10 schools had a BYOD policy, while only 50.9% of decile 1-3 schools were ‘using, or thinking about using, a device programme.’ Obviously, the 2015 report is now outdated, but it does give some startling figures that support the idea that technology will exacerbate educational outcomes between those who can afford technology and those who cannot.
With the average cost of an entry level device being around the $576 mark (N4L, 2015), it would seem self-evident that many New Zealand families are going to struggle to provide their students with technology for the classroom. Even with assistance programmes in place, device service lives are relatively limited, and with multiple children in a family, the cost of maintaining and upgrading technology within a BYOD environment can be tremendously prohibitive.
So where should schools stand? Obviously, it is essential – as stated in the 2016, OECD: Trends Shaping Education paper – that all students should have access to technology to ensure that they can benefit from the improved education that it can afford. This idea is supported by the 1989 Education Act, that states that, ‘every person who is not an international student is entitled to free enrolment and free education at any State school or partnership school’ (Part 1:3). Yet more schools are placing the cost of these devices firmly on the family and with New Zealand’s underfunded education system, it is hardly surprising.
Currently, schools who do not force BYOD and instead opt for the socially more beneficial One-to-One Device (OTOD) programme, where schools provide students with access to devices, rely on their Operation Grants to provide devices. This means that in order to provide their students with a basic instrument for modern education, they are having to cut into the funding that pays for a school’s day to day running costs (amenities, learning support, hardware, etc.). Obviously something better needs to be done. One solution would be for the government to invest in providing all students in the country with a device. The cost of kitting out our students with individual devices would cost the country $454 million (based on an entry level device of $576 and our current student population of 787,9601). To put this in perspective, the upgrades to the HMNZS Te Kaha and Te Mana cost the country $440 million dollars so it is well within our capabilities.
Ultimately, we have an obligation to provide the tools to enable our children to succeed in a technologically driven society. We must ensure that all students have digital tools to help them to reach their learning potential and as a country with a shared vision of free education, it is a burden that we all must bear.
1 Data gathered from the New Zealand Education Council’s 2016 figures.
KPMG International. (2014). Future state 2030: the global megatrends shaping governments”. KPMG International Cooperative: USA. Retrieved from http://www.kpmg.com/Global/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/future-state-government/Documents/future-state-2030-v3.pdf
Ministry of Education. (2017). Education Counts: student numbers. NZ. Retrieved from https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/schooling/student-numbers
National Intelligence Council. (2017). Global trends: The Paradox of Progress. National Intelligence Council: US. Retrieved from https://www.dni.gov/files/images/globalTrends/documents/GT-Main-Report.pdf
The Network for Learning Ltd. (2015). Tech in Schools Survey. Retrieved from: https://d1pf6s1cgoc6y0.cloudfront.net/2c581993902b41a7941bb3f4a552cac8.pdf
New Zealand Government. (1989). New Zealand Education Act. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved from: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1989/0080/latest/whole.html