New Zealand plans to incorporate digital technology into its national education curriculum, putting it on a similar path to Australia in trying to equip the next generation of students with ICT skills.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the addition of digital technology “will ensure that we have an education system that prepares children and young people for a future where digital fluency will be critical for success.”

“The information technology sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in New Zealand, with a demand for skilled graduates,” Parata said.

“This step will support young people to develop skills, confidence and interest in digital technologies and lead them to opportunities across the diverse and growing IT sector.

Parata said that the New Zealand government will “consult with stakeholders, design new curriculum content, and develop achievement objectives across the whole learner pathway” from now through to the end of 2017.

It is envisioned that digital will be “fully integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa in 2018.”

Google New Zealand’s engineering community and outreach manager Sally-Ann Williams welcomed the announcement.

“While we know there’s a long way to go to implement this curriculum, we’re excited by its potential,” Williams said.

“This curriculum will help produce a new generation of creators in technology by teaching students about computational thinking, design and programming.

“We believe New Zealand’s innovation, growth and future prosperity will be accelerated by helping young people develop these critical skills.

“[But] as with any curriculum change, teachers will be the key to both educating and inspiring the next generation of innovators in the classroom.”

The Institute of IT Professionals NZ (IITP) also welcomed the expansion of digital in the curriculum but did not believe it went far enough.

“The changes … include an expansion of Digital Technologies in the curriculum from senior secondary, where it currently resides, right down to Year 1,” IITP said.

“While schools could teach Digital Technologies at all levels already, the announcement of a more structured approach will support teaching and focus attention in this area.”

However, IITP believed digital should have been carved out “into its own subject learning area”, becoming a subject that students could study in its own right.

It also lamented the lack of “significant additional funding for professional development for teachers” in the government’s announcement, as well as the time it had taken for an announcement of this type to occur.

Some of this criticism may resonate in Australia, which has similarly been on a long path to incorporate digital technology into the national curriculum.

Australia finally rubber-stamped its digital curriculum – known as the “foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum: Technologies” - in September 2015, about two years after its design and contents were completed.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) said the digital curriculum had been under trial in “states and territories, such as South Australia, Victoria and the ACT” in 2015.

“These states are planning to implement it in 2016–17,” it said.

“Now that the Australian Curriculum has been fully endorsed, it is over to the individual states, territories and schooling authorities to determine the approach each of them will take to implementation.”

It – and the Government - has, however, faced criticism over the long lead time required to action the curriculum, and the funding provided to equip teachers for its introduction.

Monash University digital technologies in education lecturer Michael Phillips opined last year that the digital curriculum is “taking too long to introduce”.

“The most significant challenge facing us now is to reconsider the ways in which digital technology is being used, or not used, in schools,” he said.

“Without swift action we run the real risk of creating a generation of digitally illiterate students.”

ACARA responded, saying it was “too early to see the full benefits of the national curriculum”.

“But it certainly provides a focus and impetus for a sustained discussion on what young people should learn at school and how best to help them learn it,” ACARA said.