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Industry provides their view on the education challenge faced by NZ schools – Frances Valintine


Today I received an in-depth thought-leadership piece from David Eaton, the Chief Technology Officer at HP Enterprises, New Zealand. David is someone you want to be in your group of friends as he is insightful and smart, and he is also prepared to mobilise people to drive progress.

His paper, titledThe tech education challenge in New Zealand‘ starts by highlighting New Zealand’s slippery slope down the Global Innovation Index from 9th in the world in 2009 to 18th in the world in 2014. This data was paired the fact that we are a low wage economy focused on the production and export of raw commodities rather than the high-wage, high skill economy found in the new digital economy.

On page two of this paper, David gets to the heart of the issue.

He states, “The challenge for New Zealand is to produce highly skilled workers that can drive the economy to compete successfully in the 21st century globalised market, where the ability to turn an idea into a new product or service has never been easier.

One of the difficulties in the area is that education qualifications are often used as a proxy for skills. In essence, this assumes that qualifications, regardless of their relevance, are a measure of the success of the training and education of New Zealand’s workforce and their suitability for the workforce. There is no attempt to measure whether the actual qualification is appropriate for the job, or if in fact that it will lead to employment in a job requiring those qualifications.”

His statistics backs up an almost unfathomable 400% increase in the number of students who have pursued further study to earn a degree in the period from 1986 – 2009. In real numbers that is an increase of 100,000 students in 1986 to over 500,000 students in 2009.

So given this lift in formal qualifications and capability surely we are smart enough to create a New Zealand economy based upon the industries where there is the most opportunity, scale and potential for success, right?

Hmmm, last time I looked we still have harbours filled with logs heading offshore, primary products such as milk solids heading to international markets and a tech and business sector who can’t find enough people to fill the thousands of jobs that require tech savvy and innovative employees.
Why are we still focused on the export of physical products when data tells us students need to develop the skills for the emerging industries and the growing tech sector?

The report goes on to provide hard evidence “Today there is a chronic shortage of people who have the skills and experience to architect, design and implement the technology solutions… This shortage is illustrated by the ‘Long Term Skills Shortage, list published by Immigration New Zealand that has over 24 categories of ICT worker required and eligible for visas. In 2014, the Technology Industry Association estimated the sector had up to 10,000 vacancies, covering IT system administrators to software programmers and developers.”

A core part of this issue is New Zealand’s current education model could do more to equip secondary and undergraduate students to become highly skilled in the understanding and use of digital technologies (not just in the core skills of programming and business analysis) in order to thrive in today and tomorrow’s fast-paced business environment. This is not about using modern technology as a training aid (e.g. tablets to deliver lessons), but teaching modern students in the use of technology tools to equip them better for a digital world…

Teachers will not teach what they do not know, and will not effectively engage students unless they are passionate about the topic.
Far greater effort must be expended to train the teachers of today to be the teachers of tomorrow, particularly in the areas of digital literacy and collaborative learning. The average demographic of teachers in New Zealand is 55 years and female. Without professional development, it is unlikely that the majority of these teachers will become passionate advocates in digital technology. 

Hey, bingo. There it is. In black and white. Over the past few decades, we have done little to provide professional development for teachers that would develop their confidence in digital and collaborative learning. Educators who have kept abreast of the changing face of education and contemporary education have done so in their own time and mostly at their cost.

Right now the three of biggest and most transformational education programmes in New Zealand (the hugely successful Manaiakalani initiative, Ng? P?manawa e Waru cluster project in Rotorua , and The Mind Lab by Unitec postgraduate teacher programme that currently teaches over 1000 teachers across the country) all rely on funding from the NEXT Foundation, a philanthropic trust supported by one very generous New Zealand family.

What if this one family didn’t have the vision to build teacher and learner capability?

Where is New Zealand’s over-arching strategy for raising capability and the development of new skills in our schools? By the time, today’s new entrant finishes high school it will be the year 2033. Will we still be holding on to teaching the skills for industries long since forgotten?

What will be the catalyst for progress? When will we as parents, grandparents, educators and leaders be bold and make a stand to demand greater support for our teachers and students to truly understand the world ahead?

I commend David for taking a stand and putting this debate on the table. Count me in to join your team leading change.

If you would like a PDF copy of The tech education challenge in NZ report please email


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