The art of future-proofing

The day Ako meets with Liam Rutherford to talk about the new digital technologies curriculum, he’s mulling over the implications of the latest announcement from Google.

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“At its core is that chance to do some real cool stuff, in the way that we think about working with kids, and I think this offers us a really good pathway to have a really integrated curriculum, which is a bit of a personal passion of mine.” 

Liam Rutherford

The day Ako meets with Liam Rutherford to talk about the new digital technologies curriculum, he’s mulling over the implications of the latest announcement from Google.

As a tech-savvy teacher at Palmerston North’s Ross Intermediate and recent representative for NZEI Te Riu Roa on the Ministry’s Implementation Enablement Group, Rutherford has again been reminded that technology and the teaching of it can’t be future-proofed.

The internet technology giant had just announced a new artificial intelligence development that would allow users to send a text asking, for example, that a hair appointment be made at a certain time and place. The phone will call the hairdresser and an artificial intelligence would book the appointment.

“You are then going to get to a point where the hairdressers are employing the same technology, and you’ve got two artificial intelligences talking to one another, booking me in for a haircut,” he says.

“This stuff is being announced now.  Where’s this going to be in 10 years?”

Into this fast-changing world comes the Digital Technologies/Hangarau Matihiko curriculum, designed to, “prepare [students] now to adapt to technology and jobs that have not yet been invented – robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and advances in connectivity.”

It’s a noble and timely goal, and Rutherford is widely supportive of the changes, which have introduced two new areas to the technology curriculum.

“One is around the kind of logical thinking that has clear links to algebra, and patterns, and all that stuff.  Then the other one is around how you can use a digital tool to solve an outcome. And so, for me, who is really passionate about enquiry-based approaches, I really like it, because it is giving teachers another opportunity to look at outcomes, it has opened up the pathway of using digital ways to do that.  So, in practice, it integrates well into the wider curriculum, and this move towards project-based, and play-based learning.”

Rutherford’s role in this year’s roll-out of the curriculum is on the sector group that considers schools’ applications for a share of $24 million in PLD funding. There have been two funding rounds since the beginning of the year and so far about 150 schools have received funding to run professional development for their staff.

Rutherford urges schools to move quickly to organise an application – it’s a simple one-page form that takes about half an hour to complete, and Communities of Learning can also apply.

“CoLs should be applying for that contestable funding. That would be a really good pathway of building up a core group of people with some knowledge, and then take that out into the individual schools,” says Rutherford.

NZEI. Ross Intermediate, PN. Robotics Class with teacher Liam Rutherford. Photo copyright Mark Coote/<a href=”http://markcoote.com” rel=”nofollow”>markcoote.com</a>

So far, most of the schools that have applied for the contestable funding are already “naturally on this journey” and he’s concerned that it may become an equity issue if some schools are slow to take up the offer.

Total funding to support schools and teachers in the rollout of the technology curriculum is $38 million, which Rutherford describes as woefully inadequate considering schools and kura are expected to integrate the Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum content by 2020. It will be taught from Years 1-10, with the option to specialise from Years 11-13.

An “All Equity Fund” is receiving $6 million of the funding, which can’t be used to supply computers to students and will reach 12,500 students a year over three years.

“They [the Ministry] wanted discreet learning opportunities for students to do outside of the classroom, and so they put it out for tender.  They had two contracts come back in – The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) and Karrikins Group.

“Karrikins Group is going to deliver six 45-minute sessions a year over three years. They’re based out of Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch, and as a part of that, 20 percent has to be a roadshow.  I could imagine that just being Christchurch and a radius around it,” says Rutherford.

NZEI. Ross Intermediate, PN. Robotics Class with teacher Liam Rutherford. Photo copyright Mark Coote/<a href=”http://markcoote.com” rel=”nofollow”>markcoote.com</a>

The ‘Digital Ignition’ programme will include robots, 3D printing and coding and emphasise an ability to ‘think digitally’.

Te Papa will partner with other museums and bring technology-rich learning to students, who will be able to “tell their own stories as they build their knowledge”, according to a ministerial announcement.


“What it doesn’t do, is actually bridge the reality that some kids are disadvantaged compared to all of those other kids that have internet and computers and stuff coming out of their ears.  So, the Ministry’s idea of equity is one-off learning opportunities as opposed to the systemic issues of inequity,” says Rutherford.

Rutherford’s advice to schools uncertain how to begin incorporating the new curriculum is to seek out other schools that are already partway through the journey and just get started.  

“Come to understand that this document here, sits within the technology curriculum, and so it is not completely new in terms of that technology process that you work through, around designing things.  It’s talking about some really cool things, around authentic context, the use of defined process to develop, test and evaluate something, and then they consider the social, ethical, and end user considerations.  That’s the stuff that I think should be at the heart of a good enquiry process.”

He says that teachers need to understand what the new curriculum is trying to achieve and dispel the myths that every child needs to have a computer and everyone has to learn to code or is going to be on screens all the time.

“Because that’s not the case.  And actually, see how this strengthens the current technology curriculum and the possible links for integration into what you’re doing.  

“At its core is that chance to do some real cool stuff, in the way that we think about working with kids, and I think this offers us a really good pathway to have a really integrated curriculum, which is a bit of a personal passion of mine.”  


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