Speech to Bett Asia Leadership Summit 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 16:50

Raising the potential for digital technology to transform learning in New Zealand schools

Introduction - the Government’s vision for the future of digital education

New Zealand’s education system has long provided the foundation for the social and economic success of our country.  We know that differences in education and skills between countries explain the difference in rates of economic growth more than any other single factor.

As we look forward, we want to ensure our system, already one of the best in the world, continues to provide the best education for every young person and prepares them for the digital world.

That is why we are all here today, to talk about how we use technology to improve education systems. To put it another way, the ability to harness the power of digital technologies to transform teaching and learning and ensure young people can compete in an increasingly inter-connected world.

Our Government’s aim is to see New Zealand as a world-leader in digital education. We want all our learners to have the skills and knowledge needed for success in a rapidly changing digital world.

As we gather here in Singapore, we are all asking ourselves what is the future of education, and how can we improve teaching and learning in a modern education system?

In one sense, we all have the same goal of ensuring that every child has access to quality education, and develops the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

With young people becoming more globally connected than ever, we need to ensure they are connected, confident and lifelong learners. Some of the key issues we’re thinking about include:

  • advancing the drive to personalised learning – digital technologies will mean every student can be in the driving seat of their own learning, with support from highly skilled teachers who help them chart a course to achieve their goals for the future
  • ensuring access to rich data and information underpinned by data analytics across our education system - students will own their record of learning, it will travel with them and they can continue to build on it over their lifetime
  • the collapse of traditional institutional boundaries which we can all relate to - students are now able to learn from a range of settings, both physical and virtual
  • the rise of more learning in collaboration, with peers and others, face-to-face and virtually
  • the opportunity to develop higher-order skills such as digital fluency, complex problem solving, collaboration and team-work
  • new approaches to assessment and qualifications
  • the active participation of students as partners in their communities to solve real-world problems.

I want to outline some of the building blocks and work we have underway, to ensure we are maximising the opportunities the digital age offers to improve our education system.

Providing the building blocks for digital education

ICT infrastructure

The New Zealand Government has committed over $700 million to provide all state and state-integrated schools in New Zealand with a standardised, fit-for-purpose ICT infrastructure platform, creating equity of access to digital learning opportunities across the sector. 

We are on track to upgrade schools’ ICT infrastructure by the end of 2015. We are also refreshing or providing wireless to schools that have the oldest ICT infrastructure. 

All schools are also being provided with a fully-funded, dedicated internet service, via the Crown-owned company Network for Learning (N4L).

N4L was created to build a managed network specifically designed for New Zealand schools, and to create an environment that encourages the uptake of digital learning.

The N4L Managed Network provides participating schools with fast, reliable internet complete with uncapped data, web filtering, network security services and helpdesk support.  Because it’s centrally managed, schools don’t need to support their own internet connection, reducing ICT complexity and costs.

By creating a Crown company as a delivery vehicle, we have an organisation that demonstrates the traits of agility and innovation demonstrated in the private sector.

This semi-private approach to internet service provision has proven to be very effective. Already, almost 700,000 teachers and students are using the Managed Network, with 90% of our 2,500 schools expected to be connected by December 2015, and 100% of schools connected by the end of 2016.

This connectivity is helping teachers and students gain access to a vast array of online teaching and learning tools and resources, websites, apps and more.

It is also helping them form better connections with subject matter experts, other teachers, other students, their local communities and the world.


An innovation that’s helping schools and students maximise digital learning resources and better connectivity is the N4L portal POND.

This is an online environment aiming to unite New Zealand teachers, school administrators and students with providers of educational content and services.

POND is designed to act as a central hub for digital discovery and participation, where educational resources can be accessed and shared more easily and effectively.  Access to POND is free for all school users.

POND provides a structured and supportive environment within which teachers can discover and share resources that they know have been shared by New Zealand educators and content providers in a manner that is consistent with the correct and proper usage of intellectual property.

POND was soft-launched in mid-2014. By mid-2015, over 10,000 educators had joined POND and they continue to join.

ICT infrastructure supporting communities

Some schools have leveraged their improved ICT infrastructure to provide improved internet access to the local community, for example, by partnering with an internet service provider and a philanthropic Trust.

This enables students to go on learning outside school hours, and also gives the community access to high-speed broadband which they otherwise wouldn’t have.

This has occurred in lower-socio economic areas where families cannot afford internet access and in remote communities where the school’s internet connection is often the only reliable connection.

This allows communities, families and parents to engage and collaborate with schools.

A recent N4L survey of 700 schools showed that digital technologies provide powerful ways to engage parents and families in their children’s learning, and almost 70% of schools surveyed use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with students and parents.

Equitable access to digital devices

We expect that when all New Zealand schools have the infrastructure necessary to use digital devices, all school-aged students will have access to a digital device for learning regardless of their location or family background.

Our approach to digital devices for learning is that these decisions should be made by a school in consultation with the school community.

The Ministry of Education provides advice on implementing digital devices to help schools decide when and how to implement devices, how to engage their communities and how to ensure no student misses out.

Innovative learning environments

In addition to our investment in ICT infrastructure, the New Zealand Government is making a huge investment in innovative learning environments to provide our schools with the complete physical, social and pedagogical context for great learning to happen.

These spaces can be changed to support a range of teaching and learning approaches on any given day, and are also able to adapt to broader changes as education practices evolve over time. Acoustics, lighting, technology, heating and air quality are of a high standard to help students concentrate on learning.

The flexibility of innovative learning environments means that a wide range of teaching and learning approaches is possible. Today’s teachers work more collaboratively with each other and students, in small and large groups and individually according to students’ learning needs.

Students can study on their own or work with their peers in small groups. This encourages them to be independent learners and to develop skills that help them collaborate with others.

When we build new schools or upgrade our existing schools, we have an opportunity to create comfortable, well-connected and flexible learning spaces that support the creation of an innovative learning environment.

We have a lot of work underway in our property portfolio to provide these opportunities, including:

  • a schools rebuild programme in Christchurch, following the devastating earthquake there in 2011
  • a major weather-tightness remediation programme for New Zealand schools
  • commitments to build nine new schools and hundreds of extra classrooms in response to growth in Auckland, our largest city
  • a redevelopment programme across the country to address the most complex property issues.

Schools receive property funding that must be prioritised first to meet health and safety standards and second to address essential infrastructure issues. They can then direct their property funding to modernisation and the development of innovative learning environments.

These characteristics of our modern education - investing in our schools, classrooms and digital infrastructure, along with fast and improved access to quality online services and quality teaching and strong leadership - is what will deliver the teaching and learning outcomes we are seeking for our young people.

Building our system capability

As we complete the national fibre network and the modernising of schools’ ICT infrastructure, we need to build our capability to maximise the benefits from these significant ICT investments.

Earlier this year, the Chief Executives of ten key education agencies responsible for administering New Zealand’s education system – such as the NZ Qualifications Authority, the Education Review Office and Tertiary Education Commission - signed up to a digital strategy Transforming Education for the Digital Age

This is an important milestone for us.  Up to now, our education agencies and the wider education sector had their own IT systems, websites and data management systems. This made it difficult for students, parents, teachers and administrators to access accurate, consistent information; keep up-to-date with progress and make appropriate choices about their education pathways.

The new strategy will maximise the enormous potential for digital technologies to enhance education for every learner in New Zealand, from early childhood to tertiary and beyond in a more coordinated way. 

The strategy puts the learner at the centre, with their portfolio of learning able to follow them as they move through their learning journey.  Integrated systems will enable information to be gathered and to be easily available to those who need it, and importantly, have a right to it. 

A collective approach to IT investments by the agencies will mean that students and the wider community will be able to get information about education easily, without having to find and navigate their way through a range of unconnected websites.

Common tools, systems and data standards will provide access to rich, real-time information and at the same time will reduce administration and overheads. 

Moving to cloud-based services will give us the ability to manage huge data sets, reduce spending on infrastructure, reduce onsite IT management and provide immediate access, anytime, anywhere.

This strategy will help us create the foundations for a more agile and innovative education system.

Investing in Educational Success

ICT strategies and digital technologies alone will not shift performance and raise student achievement. For students to be successful in the modern world, they need to be taught basic foundation skills and how to navigate through a digital landscape.

Our Government has invested $359 million in the Investing in Educational Success (IES) initiative, designed to support teachers and principals to raise student achievement in every school. 

IES encourages schools to develop and support links within their communities, and build on the existing knowledge and experience of local teachers and principals.

Communities of Learning are a key part of this initiative.  These communities are groups of schools and kura (schools in which teaching and learning are conducted in the Maori language) that together provide the education pathway for students in their local community.

The schools come together to raise achievement for children and young people by sharing expertise in teaching and learning.

Each Community of Learning works together, including parents, teachers and others, to identify achievement challenges across a range of areas. Schools then cooperate to develop and share effective strategies for raising achievement for their students.

We have recently reviewed centrally funded professional development for teachers in New Zealand schools, and recognised the importance of building teacher capability to integrate digital technologies into day-to-day teaching and learning practices. An important outcome of this review is our decision to make digital fluency a national priority for professional development from 2017.

Private-sector support for digital innovation

In a small country such ours we must work with the private sector, local government, philanthropists and communities to collaborate on innovative ways to achieve equitable access to digital learning opportunities for all students. One example of this is the Mind Lab.

The Mind Lab

The Mind Lab by Unitec in Auckland is a specialist learning environment designed to help learners and educators experience new ways to integrate technology in the classroom. It aims to build collaborative skills that encourage innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration, resilience and creative problem-solving. 

The Mind Lab team was launched in April 2014 as a joint venture with the Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland and there are now Mind Labs in four main centres.

They offer workshops for school-aged students across a broad range of creative and scientific technologies including coding, 3D modelling and printing, robotics, electronics, film effects and animation.

Along with the workshops for school-aged students, The Mind Lab offers teachers a Post-Graduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) as a part-time programme run over 32 weeks.  This initiative is a great example of support for greater innovation.

The Next Foundation

The Next Foundation, a philanthropic trust with a specific commitment to education, is supporting teachers to study with The Mind Lab through a scholarship for the Certificate course, available in 2015 to 800 registered teachers in our state schools.

Feedback has been positive, with teachers describing the programme as stimulating, motivating and empowering, with significant impacts on their students’ engagement and achievement.  

Our International Partnerships

Digital 5 (D5)

In December 2014, New Zealand participated in the inaugural meeting as a member of the D5, a group of the world’s most digitally advanced governments which includes the UK, South Korea, Estonia and Israel.

The D5 Charter agrees to a collective goal to harness the potential global power of digital technology. It aims to help each participant become an even better digital government, faster and more efficiently, through sharing and learning from each other.  

The Charter is founded on a set of principles of digital development that the five participant nations agree to commit to.  The D5 will meet once a year with a rolling host nation that will chair the meeting.

Innovation in our schools

Manaiakalani Community of Schools - accelerating achievement with digital technologies

We have some very good examples of innovation supported by digital technologies.

The Manaiakalani cluster of 12 schools in Auckland uses digital technologies to enable students to learn anywhere, anytime, at any pace.

A Trust was established to enable families to purchase devices on affordable lease-to-buy arrangements. All students use a digital device owned by the student’s family and can access their school’s network via community WiFi 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In the first year research showed significant positive impact on engagement, motivation and student behaviour, but positive impacts on achievement only in pockets across the cluster.

Research is now showing accelerated learning in schools across the cluster.

Amesbury School

Amesbury School is another great example of innovation.

This school in Wellington was built in 2012 as an innovative learning environment and has quickly gained national recognition for its innovative teaching and learning practices.

Students are encouraged to be self-directed learners from year one and have their own e-portfolios. They use it to record their learning and to post evidence of their progress and achievement. An Amesbury Learning Framework enables teachers, students, and their parents to follow progress day-by-day against the curriculum.

Students are involved in self-assessment and encouraged to identify their own areas for development.  They make progress at their own pace, with teachers working together to support them with their learning.

The principal and teachers have a mantra, “never waste a student’s time”. Key concepts are taught in twelve minute “snappers”, which are often videoed so that students can re-visit them.

The whole school is available for learning, with Wi-Fi inside and out. Digital technologies are seamlessly integrated into teaching and learning. Students are encouraged to use a range of media to create and share their learning, including blogging and videoing. The focus is on fostering the joy of learning. 

Opportunities and challenges

These examples illustrate that with technology constantly evolving, with new ideas, devices, and entrepreneurship, there is great potential for further change in the future.

We are only at the beginning of the exciting digital revolution that has already come to our classrooms and will continue to have a massive impact over the coming decades.

But there are some challenges.  For example, we know that equitable access to digital technologies is critical so every student can benefit from them. 

We have some excellent examples of schools that have found ways to make sure every student has access to digital devices and the internet out of school hours.  We need to make sure all schools have strategies to ensure no student misses out and we’re working on ways to support schools.

We also know that technologies and innovative learning environments won’t lead to better learning outcomes unless teaching practices change.  We’re currently investing around $9 million a year to help teachers make the best possible use of digital technologies for learning.

The Minister of Education has recently reviewed centrally funded professional development for teachers.  Integrating digital technologies will be a key feature of any changes to teacher professional development in the future.

Future trends

There are so many emerging innovations - some we know about, others we haven’t even imagined yet.  Many of them will have a profound impact on education.

For example, innovations such as Google Expeditions, Microsoft HoloLens, and Oculus Rift make it possible for students to learn in exciting and authentic ways. 

A lesson on the Great Wall of China, for example, no longer needs to rely on pictures and videos. Today, an internet link and an inexpensive headset enable children to participate in a virtual guided tour. 

Wearable technology such as smart watches can be used as health and fitness monitors and be integrated into physical education lessons.

3D printing now allows students to create and manipulate objects that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.

Through the use of highly sophisticated analytical tools, we’re also better able to analyse huge sets of data, giving us more precise and more in-depth knowledge of the needs of our students.


New Zealand education is at a tipping point.  By the end of 2016, all schools will have the ICT infrastructure to enable digital technologies to be fully integrated into their teaching and learning.

If we are to fully realise the benefits of digital technologies for learning, we need to keep our focus on inspiring interest in digital technologies as a subject and ensuring our teachers have the skills to teach it. The Hon Hekia Parata’s recent announcement about digital fluency and investing in educational success is an important step.

As I mentioned, in a small country such as ours, it is essential that we collaborate with the private sector, local government philanthropists and communities to help us maximise the digital learning opportunities for our young people.

It is equally important that we stay connected with overseas educationalists. We now live in a ‘global village’, but these forums provide a valuable opportunity to really find out what is happening in classrooms around the world, to make connections, share ideas and build relationships for the future.

Thank you for having me here today.