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Ian McCrae: New Zealand poised to teach tech to teens

Ian McCrae: New Zealand poised to teach tech to teens

Orion Health’s CEO says our ICT sector wants to help deliver in secondary schools, but the Ministry of Education needs to join the party.

Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae with members of the Orion’s Junior Development Board Mukti Prabhakar and Mohammed Abu-alsaad

Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae with members of the Orion’s Junior Development Board Mukti Prabhakar and Mohammed Abu-alsaad

We can come up with an innovative solution to the problem by using technology itself…Why can we not deliver some of the content via broadband?

Ian McCrae, Orion Health

Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae is adamant that New Zealand is ready to deliver digital technology as an academic subject in secondary schools, without the need for more consultation.

He also believes the technology sector is prepared to work with the Ministry of Education to make this happen.

“The technology sector is already investing a lot to raise the profile of technology in schools, and it is almost certain that the sector will work with the Ministry of Education to help deliver some of the content,” he tells CIO New Zealand.

“We just need the Ministry of Education to come to the party.”

“This has already been going on and I would imagine the industry is going to provide experts to the Ministry of Education to help out with the more complicated areas.”

Asked whether there would be enough teachers to handle the courses, McCrae says, “You are quite right that teaching resource today does not exist within the educational system.”

“But working with the sector, I am pretty sure we can come up with an innovative solution to the problem by using technology itself.”

“Broadband opens up a whole new range in the way we deliver course content. You no longer need the experts standing in front of you.”

“Why does the teacher have to be in the class? Why can we not deliver some of the content via broadband? There are all sorts of possibilities.”

“Everybody learns it by going to forums, asking questions, that is how technology is learned.”

“That is exactly how we can do it and how we should do it,” McCrae says.

Ian McCrae of Orion Health
Ian McCrae of Orion Health

To teach digital technology properly, the government has to invest additional money for those courses.

“We have put a lot of money and time [on this] and will continue to do so,” he says.

Orion Health, for instance, has been providing Raspberry Pi computers to schools.

He says Datacom and half a dozen other companies have done similar things. These activities are augmented by IITP and other groups like Code Club, #SheSharp and OMG Tech.

Earlier this week, McCrae, and two other ICT leaders —Frances Valintine of The Mind Lab and Ian Taylor of Animation Research—sent an open letter to Education Minister Hekia Parata to fast track the delivery of digital technology as an academic subject.

Parata had earlier stated this will be done, but the Government will consult with various groups, design new curriculum content, and develop objectives for the programme until the end of next year.

The UK and other countries have already overhauled their systems and are teaching digital technology in primary and secondary schools, he says.

“We have been in consultation with the Ministry of Education now for almost a decade.”

“There were many other excellent recommendations made during the 12-month review in 2015,” he says.

“It begs the question: how much consultation do we have to have?”

Orion Health Outreach coordinator Ruth James works with Adamya Manchanda at Code Club.
Orion Health Outreach coordinator Ruth James works with Adamya Manchanda at Code Club.

The technology sector is already investing a lot to raise the profile of technology in schools, and it is almost certain that the sector will work with the Ministry to help deliver some of the content.

“What we simply want is for digital technology to be separated from metalwork, woodwork, sewing and cookery,” he states.

“We wanted a major change to the curriculum so that it actually taught secondary school students how to code, rather than how to create a PowerPoint presentation.

“If you leave it in the vocational area, it will continue to share resources with vocational subjects.

“There is a lot of course content that is shared across all of them, and it is very generic stuff, like ‘describe the goals of your project’. What that means is digital technology is considered non-academic.”

“It needs to be taught as an academic subject, in a separate learning area just like maths and science. And it needs to be properly funded.”

“To teach digital technology properly, the government has to invest additional money for those courses,” McCrae says. “From what we can tell there is no significant money set aside to do that.”

“If you are lucky enough to go to a school that teaches the Cambridge Curriculum, it has a very good set of papers and standards [for digital technology]."

“I am sure there are other syllabus that are equally good,” he says.

“What is hard for some of us to understand is why can’t the NCEA [The National Certificate of Educational Achievement, the main national qualification for secondary school students] offer something similar?”

"That is what needs to happen, and it needs to happen relatively soon, not in another 10 years time," he says.

The technology sector can move quickly, he says, but as each year passes, another group of children will miss out.

McCrae says that Orion and other software companies “are staffed by many good people from overseas, but we also want our own students to have that opportunity.”

McCrae says reports estimate New Zealand schools produce 1,500 ICT students every year, well-short of the industry demand for 3,000 a year.

“We are starting at 50 per cent of the supply needed.”

“You should be looking at this as a great career opportunity. The jobs are very well paid,” he says.

“How many entrepreneurial companies can you think of that have started in chemistry?

“Yet, when you look at the software sector, there are so many of us. We started Xero, Wynyard, Serko, Gentrac, and so many others that are unlisted.”


Related: 'We can’t wait until high school to influence children, young women especially, to have an interest in maths and technology science. We have to start really young.' - Westpac CIO Dawie Olivier

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