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The article is remarkable for the demand that access to the internet should be seen as a "utility on par with water and electricity. Citing the extraordinary, the article goes on to note that in some areas of Britain, 20% of people have never used the internet. When compared to the mobile internet capabilities of Estonia or the extraordinary reach of the internet in progressive countries such as South Korea, it is easy to see why even such a conservative entity is worried about what Britain's failure to engage with new technologies could do to individual and collective futures economically and in terms of future living standards.
In New Zealand, fortunately action is at last being taken in part due to concerns of internet inequality and the dangerous rise of the digital "haves" and "have nots." New Zealand for the most part is a fairly egalitarian society where the national psyche is one of "a fair go for all" and where there is a fairly well-held belief that every citizen deserves a decent existence and ideally positive future. New Zealand needs to be conscious of the moves from such collectives such as Great Britain or countries such as the Philippines or Malaysia who have effectively gone full Google Apps for Education countrywide. As the world becomes increasingly smaller through the full adoption of digital technology, the most successful countries in the world will undoubtedly be the ones not necessarily with a wealth of primary resources but those with vast resources of digitally competent citizens.
But why is the issue of digital competency so important now and particularly for New Zealand? New Zealand for as long as I can remember has traditionally positioned itself as a rugged personality "of the land" reinforced by the iconic stature of Edmund Hillary and the powerful physical force of our rugby world champion All Blacks. For all of the current hi-tech triumphs of Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor to the past technological successes of Jon Britten and Bruce McLaren, these notables have often been seen as unique exceptions to the traditional image of the rugged New Zealand individual. I believe however that it is these individuals alongside such other modern-day luminaries such as Jon MacDonald (Trademe) and Rod Drury (Xero) that we must look to as examples of how we must develop our students of today and tomorrow.
Every time Fonterra announces the latest "farmgate milk price", there is either immense pride in the high figure and acknowledgement of the significant effect to our country's economy or immediate despair in a figure low enough to put some farmers' operations at risk and therefore conceivably, the health of our economy. To have an economy and therefore by default, a future based in reality on the fluctuating fortunes of the "world's largest exporter" and a small number of billion dollar companies in New Zealand raises the distinct possibility of New Zealand suffering a "Nokia-like fail". Remember the 3310 anyone? If anyone thinks such a failure couldn't happen to Fonterra, think what happened to our meat and wool exports when Britain joined the EU in the early 1970s, think back early this year when the EU relaxed the restrictions on milk production.
To avoid such a economic meltdown and subsequent social disparity, I too believe that we must embrace the unique opportunities of a hi-tech, value added economy and prepare our students accordingly via our education system. Personally I am not an out and out fan of the STEM craze as while these areas of study are important in terms of economic prosperity and a quality future, the arts, the humanities and the areas of recreation and physical education do contribute to a more well-rounded academic and socially-capable individual.
The explicit targeting of upskilling our country and particularly our youth in terms of at a minimum a base level of digital competency and citizenships ensures that they are capable of being active participants, if not leaders in a global future. In a today where it is just as easy to converse with people around the world as it is across town, our geographically-isolated country needs to ensure that a country of four million sees such digital empowerment as a "must-have" and not a "like to have" or "nice to have".
For me as opposed to the British recommendation, I would have every student competent in Hauora (fitness and wellbeing), Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Competency/Citizenship by the time they exit our school system. Such a success would not only make each "graduate" part of and a contributor to our country's future wellbeing, they would also stand confident and capable as a global citizen. To this end, we would not be talking of the McDonalds, the Drurys, the Jacksons, Taylors and Brittens as technological exceptions of today but merely the trailblazers and trendsetters for our future majority. We owe these and ourselves nothing less,