Category: Pub: Article / Paper
Details: James D. Marshall, School of Education, University of Auckland (2000)
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Technology was introduced, as a formal ‘subject’, into New Zealand’s compulsory education curriculum in 1993, as part of the ‘stunning’ changes which commenced at all levels in 1988. The government’s latest paper ‘Bright future: five steps ahead’ (New Zealand Government, 1999) suggests that we are about to enter, without democratic discussion and merely some whimpers, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s (1984) world of performativity whereby education systems become subsumed under wider notions concerned with the economic efficient functioning of the state. As the Hon. Max Bradford (Minister for Tertiary Education) says in that document:

The world is changing into a global market place as we go through a revolution in information and communications technology. Things we used to dream of are becoming possible at an amazing rate … Bright Future will spearhead our efforts to make New Zealand the best country to live and do business in. It’s an investment in our future.

What is needed, according to the Ministerial contributors to that document, is the urgent and rapid development of a Knowledge Society. Their contribution to this document is then to signal provisions to be made to bring about the Knowledge Society, so as to bring education and industry together under the umbrella of performativity. This is to be achieved through the production and saleable transmission of useful knowledge through technology, and a ‘proper’ education system geared to the enhancement of both technologies and also a supporting and legitimating set of administrative structures.

In general, Maori have not been consulted on Bradford’s ‘things never dreamed about’ that these modern advances through education in technologies are purported to ‘bring’. A very recent example has been the issue of genetic modification of organic life (see below). But is this surprising? As two New Zealand scientists have commented: ‘… the partnership between Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori) has not yet bridged the cultural divide that separates Western science from other worldviews, especially that of the first people of Aotearoa/New Zealand’ (Roberts & Wills, 1998, p. 43). The general historical story is that Maori sought the Western technology that the settlers brought to New Zealand. But, if that were true, as Durie says (1997, p. 35): ‘Once alienated from their economic base, the land, sea and forest resources, the capacity for technological innovation to work against Maori interests becomes apparent’. If so, the Knowledge Society may not bode well for Maori.

Various changes, similar to those which have taken place, or are taking place, in Australia, Britain and Canada, have been introduced into the New Zealand schools and their curriculum since the reform legislation of 1988/1999. The intellectual framework of these reforms, encapsulated by the adoption and adaptation of earlier ideas from John Locke and Adam Smith, draws upon the more recent work of such as the Harvard neo-liberal philosopher Robert Nozick and the Austrian born economist, the late F.C. Hayek, and upon new economic management. But the changes are caught well by Lyotard’s (1984) concept of performativity. Lyotard argues that education systems have abandoned Enlightenment ideals such as the development of leaders, an educated elite and the emancipation of people through education, as these have become subsumed under wider global demands for the efficient functioning of economic and social systems.

In this paper I wish to concentrate explicitly upon the formal introduction of technology into the New Zealand curriculum (excluding tertiary) (Ministry of Education, 1993, 1995). In particular, I wish to raise a number of philosophical questions, about the nature or essence of technology and the implications for Maori. Such questions and associated issues are missing from official Ministry of Education (MoE) Documents. These general philosophical issues are not raised in an idiosyncratic manner, however, as much of this new curriculum has been borrowed from wider Western sources, and the issues raised have a general application. These questions concern: the nature or essence of technology; possible relationships between technology and the self; and possible relationships between indigenous peoples (in this case Maori) and technology.

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Essay originally published in Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2000.