As education minister, Hekia Parata upset New Zealand’s tech sector by not elevating digital technology teaching to the level they asked for.
The debate hasn’t stopped.
It may never stop. The technology industry is wealthy and powerful. It knows how to lobby. It is a master of using the media. Its voice will be heard.
It has a good point.
There’s a strong case for giving digital technology a greater share of the curriculum.
Digital technology doesn’t belong in a vocational ghetto alongside woodwork and other non-academic subjects.
While there is a case for non-academic digital education, technology also needs to be taught to a higher standard.
But let’s not carried away. Whether you call it digital literacy or technology it should not be on a par with language or maths teaching.
They are fundamental.
Although you might argue the same about technology’s role in the modern world, that’s not quite true.
Literacy and digital, different aspects of the same thing
You can’t do digital well without being able to read and communicate.
Without reading skills a young person’s digital experience can’t advance far beyond taking selfies, playing games and watching streamed video.
Most digital devices are, one way or another, communications tools.
Even if the tools evolve to the point where an ability to write or type is no longer essential, people still need basic communications skills.
If the goal is to encourage more young New Zealanders into technology careers, they need to be articulate and numerate to cope with the work.
At a pinch you can train a literate, articulate adult to work in almost every tech industry role. Although it may not be impossible to find meaningful work for those without those skills, it will be harder.
Education bigger picture
Education has be about more than preparing people for the workplace. Digital skills are important for every other aspect of life.
Which brings us to the most important aspect of technology education: the digital divide.
We often think the digital divide is only about access to devices, tools and networks. It is usually framed as something that affects poorer or more remote New Zealanders.
Yet there’s another divide that’s just as bad.
People who feel unable to perform even basic digital tasks because they lack the skills are as disadvantaged as those who can’t get online.
The same goes for people who can’t read, write or otherwise communicate. We don’t call that a digital divide, but it amounts to something similar. Let’s call it the literacy divide.
It’s great that we devote money, time and energy to helping people get across the digital divide. More power to those working in this area.
Yet we also need to use the same vigour to deal with the basic literacy divide because those people are in the same dark place.
So, by all means ramp up digital education, but not at the expense of something that’s more fundemental.