Education futurist and founder of The Mind Lab and Tech Futures Lab, Frances Valintine has been working in the education space for more than 18 years and says it is now more critical than ever for New Zealand to embrace digital technology for our nation’s future of learning.
“Where we are in New Zealand right now is a point in time where it could go two ways. We haven’t been particularly bold in terms of our adoption of technologies, and I think that’s partially because we don’t have large organisations really driving that change.
“If you look off-shore and into large markets, the impact of things like big data, machine learning or automation, the uptake of technologies has been really driven by efficiencies and productivity.”
Frances says it’s great to be getting our current generation of students excited about technology, but this is only half the equation.
“It’s equally important to make sure we have the companies who can hire these graduates in the future.
“If we keep staying in the same position where we are today, very reliant on primary industries and not enough around digital technology and digital software, we will be held back as a nation, and the future of New Zealand will be under threat from the agility and scale across the world where they’re really embracing rapid change.”
Collaboration, communication and creativity
Frances says the way we are learning is moving quickly away from the old traditional and more formal classroom settings.
“There’s a big shift away from having content knowledge and the way we were perhaps trained in the past to become subject experts. Now it’s all about how do you find good information, how do you collaborate, how you communicate, and how creative you are.
“There’s a lot more emphasis on those soft skills as well as having a good understanding of subjects.”
NZ a slow follower
The mother-of-four says almost every company in the world now has to see itself as a technology company because the basic foundations and everything that they operate with - their systems, logistics, policies - are all going to reflect a highly digital and technical environment.
She says small businesses in New Zealand don’t necessarily have the same view of the world and the trickle-down effect is if people aren’t demanding those skillsets right now, then we’re not training our students for those skills.
“Fundamentally, this is going to be a problem if we don’t have that capability when it’s needed, which is pretty much now and for the foreseeable future. Then we have two reliances, one on either upskilling our actual local market or bringing in new talent, but there’s a lot to be done to play catch-up.
“I’d love to think we could be a fast follower, but I suspect right now we’re probably in the camp of the slightly slower follower of other comparable nations.”
Approaching apex of innovation
Frances believes the next 10 years are going to be the most innovative period of the world’s history.
“I think the actual way we engage with information will change from sort of a two dimensional or even three dimensional into these new VR/AR mixed-reality environments.
“We’re also starting to see things like holoportation, which is the idea that you could literally holoport somebody into your environment to talk to you as an expert. And while that’s something that’s in the future, it’s not the future future that is that far away.”
She says another shift changing the global landscape will be countries being introduced to the internet and low-cost to free Wi-Fi.
“Countries that perhaps had a very limited access to knowledge and limited education because of the physical environments, the bricks and mortar and access to teachers and resources, were hard to come by.
“Actually putting a low-cost device in their hand and very low-cost or free Wi-Fi suddenly means they can become educated in a way that we could only once image.
“They can find specialists, they can do online courses, they can become partners with different organisations, they can pair up with people and collaborate across the world – and they don’t have in some ways the disadvantage that the developed world has because they have no legacy.
“They can go from very basic, living in a village, having no real access to great teaching, to suddenly having a tablet in their hands and actually having access to the very best information that we all have.
“And that technology now is becoming so low cost. It’s quite reasonable to think that in many of these nations for $10 to $30 you can have a device in your hand.”