New Zealand’s education system is lacking thought leadership, according to futurist Frances Valintine.

“If you went to a principal today and said, ‘What is the strategy for New Zealand’s education future?’ I think they would struggle to answer that question,” she said.

Valintine is the founder of The Mind Lab, an education provider aiming to improve digital literacy in students and teachers, and is also the chair of the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Advisory Group.

She worries the numerous Ministry of Education review and reform projects under way won’t deliver a strategy. Current projects range from looking at the Tomorrow’s Schools model, to a reform of school property. She said there is an “expanse of teams” working within silos, but not across silos.

“There hasn’t been enough conversation about where are we going and why are we going there.”

Along with better thought leadership she sees opportunities for schools to make immediate changes to ready themselves and their students for the future.

“The frontline of our future workforce sit in our schools right now.”

She believes schools need to function more like businesses, planning for what they will need to do five years in the future and ensuring staff have the skills to deliver the education.

“Teaching computational thinking isn’t something you’re going to instinctively know how to do. There hasn’t been a significant resource put into the marketplace by the ministry for example.”

“There are quite high levels of fear with parents that their kids are being used as guinea pigs in this transition from analogue to digital.”

Setting a direction well in advance also gives parents time to come to terms with an education system vastly different to what they experienced, where their children might use Google Sheets to do mathematics rather than notebooks.

“There are quite high levels of fear with parents that their kids are being used as guinea pigs in this transition from analogue to digital.”

Valentine said that’s far from the truth. If anything, New Zealand is 10 years behind other countries.

High schools in particular need to move to adopt a different approach to teaching already in place in primary schools.

“The under 12-year-olds have grown up 100 percent digital, they’ve never not known the internet and smart phones. Social media has been there from the day they were born.”

Many primary schools are using a collaborative, enquiry-based approach. A science project might include teams of students choosing different ways to explore a topic. While learning about space students might choose to do an online course through NASA, some may choose to 3D model planets to understand the size difference between them, others might choose to use the playground.

“There’s a lot of very well-integrated technology. There’s a lot of self-education, kids pacing themselves the through their understanding of topics and progressing themselves into the next group and assisting each other.”

When students shift to high school it’s an abrupt transition into a completely different way of learning. Bean bags and group tables are replaced by rows of desks and learning can shift to note taking from a whiteboard.

Ensuring high schools bring in contemporary practice, while not losing teaching practices which are successful, is key according to Valintine.

“The benefits for the students are significant because they are actually preparing themselves for the road ahead.”

She thinks career advice is an area which could be overhauled to give students facts and data about careers. Careers advisors are often not up-to-speed on the future of work and data available out of date.

Access to current information would help students decide what topics to study in their high school years. With data they could decide whether to choose several science topics for example or choose to do a more diverse range of topics.

“Where are the facts? Let’s have a look, how many people do get jobs in this and what kind of opportunity do I have and is this a short-term need or a long-term need?”

Valintine is currently travelling around New Zealand, delivering presentations on the future of education.

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