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Reimagining education

Opinion Piece

I AM passionate about education, as I see the potential difference it can make in everyone’s life. Everyone has to go to school, and everyone pays for this. Education is a public service that is publicly funded. However, some people believe that education in Gisborne is not adequate.

Our achievement data is well below the rest of New Zealand and unsurprisingly this is also mirrored in our business climate. In the latest MBIE report, Gisborne has the country’s worst economy.

There is a great deal of uncertainty in education, from the way we measure it to the way it prepares young people for a future that we are unsure of. I am going to briefly explore the possibility that our system must change in order to motivate learners to succeed in the world as we know it, and in the future.

One thing we can be certain of is that the world is changing rapidly — there has been more change in the last 20 years than the past 200. Technology has radically disrupted the way we live; Spotify, Uber and AirBnB are consumer examples that have disrupted the way we listen to music, travel and book accommodation. These innovations all cut out the middle man and are generally crowd sourced, making the service more open, more flexible and user focused.

If you are not too worried about the present, what about the future? Robots are leaving the factory floor and heading for your job. A recent report in the UK claimed that 35 percent of all jobs in 10 to 20 years will be automated. New Zealand company Xero has already disrupted the accountant’s role in managing money, but it is low-skilled work that is most under threat from automation.

Digital literacy and digital citizenship will be vital if people are not to be left stranded as the hi-tech tide sweeps on. Drones are being used for farming, 3D printing and prototyping will have a direct impact on our futures. Right here in Gisborne we have Dr Hong, a world leader who is revolutionising healthcare and could wipe out blindness in third world countries. This is being developed on an open source platform so anyone can use these designs and make a difference.

Solving the big onesSo when we look at this world where open source, crowd-funded and crowd-sourced businesses are supported by innovative people, where does our education model fit in? This sharing economy is developing because there are bigger fish to fry than our times tables and putting apostrophes in the right places. We need to engage learners in how they will solve the wicked problems of the world — obesity, global warming, a swelling population and diminishing resources are serious issues that need attention. Which brings us back to the original results which condemn Gisborne.

We don’t need to ask what is wrong with our students by comparing their grades to the rest of the world, we need to look at what we are doing to support our teachers. How are we allowing professionals in this district to model 21st century skills, optimising the thoughtful use of technology to its greatest potential to allow students to be creators rather than consumers of technology? There is a big difference between learning to use technology and using technology to learn — are we measuring and valuing the right things to amplify creativity, innovation, agility and radical collaboration?

The children we have in front of us today are not the ones teachers were trained to teach. We need to rethink education in the context of a rapidly changing global society.

Machines have allowed us to reimagine an education system that is more humanistic, as most of the other parts can and will be done by computers. We need to focus on what sets us apart from each other and make education learner-centric. What we need to look at transcends technology. The technology will always change, grow and develop.

We have some astoundingly creative and talented people in this region and we need to celebrate this. Our children are amazing already — we just need to help them prove it, and the way we do this is through the thoughtful design of our own education system and practice here in Tairawhiti. We need to design our own future or someone else will design it for us.

The recent example from Tolaga Bay Area School enabling a hub where access to devices, wifi and open education supports these ideas, and is also based on ako, manaakitanga and whanaungatanga to enable all to learn, not just school-aged children. Knowledge is now free, it is not held in the universities or the schools, it is open and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. We need to encourage the learners to ask the questions, rather than answering the ones we already know the answers to — we can no longer allow location to limit our learning in Tairawhiti.

MINDER: Tim Gander at The Mind Lab facility in Gisborne.