INTOUCH : Comment on a bigger role for business in education

As Secondary Futures Guardian, I was enormously encouraged by Tim Watkin’s cover story in NZ Management magazine’s June edition on educating New Zealand’s future managers.
Particularly encouraging was Watkin’s comment that the government officials, educators and business leaders he interviewed had all used the same language. This suggests that there is both general awareness that change is needed in our education system and measure of agreement about the broad direction that change should take. That has been Secondary Futures’ experience also.
Secondary Futures has been engaged in comprehensive four-year project, with wide cross-section of New Zealanders exploring how secondary schooling should look 20 years into the future if more students are to be more successful.
We are now delivering back to the public the findings from this engagement through series of five theme papers, the fourth of which – “Community Connectedness” – will be released later this month and is of particular relevance to business.
“Community Connectedness” is not policy document and is suggestive rather than prescriptive because it is impossible to be dogmatic about the future.
The paper foresees society in which learning is highly valued and is always spoken of as an investment, never as cost. The school is still important but the ‘silo’ mentality with its assumption that learning is delivered by the teacher and confined to the classroom is no longer tenable.
New Zealanders envisage an interactive, vibrant interchange between the school and the community with students able to draw from wide learning networks encompassing businesses, government and non-government service providers, cultural and sporting agencies and others with skills and expertise to offer.
It is future where learning is life-long and accessible from multiplicity of learning centres, some of which will have learning as their primary function but others of which will be dedicated primarily to other pursuits such as commerce, the arts, culture, health and physical well-being.
Tying these resources together will require new thinking and new infrastructure. Imagine national website – LearnMe.co.nz – which lists all of the learning opportunities available by skills category and geographical area. Imagine the emergence of new occupation – the learning broker – whose job it is to link learners with learning providers. Imagine businesses marketing themselves on their investment in learning, much as many now seek to brand themselves by their commitment to the environment.
We do not know if the future will follow this course precisely but we do know that we should be wrestling with these issues now and that change of this magnitude is required.
It is not acceptable that one in four school leavers leave with no qualifications, or that Maori and Pacific students feature disproportionately among this group. And the implications of this failure will become ever more serious as New Zealand’s population becomes browner and as, with the retirement of the Baby Boomers, the ratio of dependants to taxpayers becomes steadily more lopsided.
New Zealand has been through radical and often traumatic economic change in the last 20 years as we make the transition from an industrial to knowledge-based economy. The scope of this transformation is evident in the fact that fully 90 percent of all new jobs created between 1987 and 2002 were in the service industries.
All the evidence suggests that over the next 20 years, the pace of change will continue to accelerate, driven by combination of factors including rapid technological innovation, increasing natural resource constraints, the challenges of climate change, globalisation and increased international trade competition from the emerging economies of China and Central America.
Increasingly our prosperity as nation will depend on our ability to discover and exploit niche markets, to be creative, nimble, agile and adaptable. That will require school graduates who are entrepreneurial, unafraid to experiment and – on occasion – to fail, are self-starters, have emotional intelligence, can draw on the skills of others in teams, are good communicators and are respectful of diversity.
Jobs will be more fluid and people will need to update and refresh their skills throughout their working lives. In this world, success will depend on an ability to learn, to access information and to evaluate it for accuracy. These capabilities will be much more valued than mastery of specific body of knowledge.
These are some of the assumptions which sit behind Secondary Futures’ vision for schooling in 2028. They are based on clear and present trends. “Community Connectedness” will be accessible at www.secondaryfutures.co.nz from midday on 12 August. Alternatively, you can get hard copy by writing to Secondary Futures, PO Box 8079, Wellington 6143.
I invite you to read it. You will not agree with everything it says but it will get you thinking.

Ian Taylor is founder and director of Taylor-Made Media and Animated Research Ltd.

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