INSIGHT: Next generation education in NZ

Frances Valintine, Chair of the Board, The Mind Lab discusses the next generation of education in New Zealand.

The inevitable has happened. That slow-moving tsunami of 21st Century students have finally navigated the education terrain of the primary school sector, and as of next year the first of these students will spill into our secondary schools.

The effect of these students has been predicted, researched and analysed over the decade but the moment of truth will only be realised when the students first arrive at high school in 2016.

Forget the so-called Millenial babies, 21st-century learners and digital natives. Heading the charge of education transformation is the new frontier of learners.

These twelve-year-olds will look very much the same as the previous generations of high school students, but their arrival will be felt like a punch between the eyes. They are a formidable force of young change agents who have never experienced a traditional class.

The past seven years of learning in primary schools have moulded these next generation students to become independent and collaborative learners, who have grown up secure in a new model of teaching.

These are active learners familiar with inquiry-based practice, who have learnt to pivot seamlessly between devices and across different platforms while they deep dive into subject areas that are delivered online, offline and in immersive learning environments.

This generation of the disruptive learner who will bring their experience of collaboration, openness and digital literacy to the classroom. They are redefining, modifying and augmenting the learning process and bringing a technical confidence to the classroom.

My role, leading a postgraduate course in digital and collaborative learning for teachers has provided me with an extraordinary insight of our primary and secondary school classrooms.

Over the past 12 months over 800 teachers on the programme have provided video insights into their classroom practices.

These videos provide evidence of individual teaching practices and the environments where they teach. The video submissions are openly shared on a closed media portal with other teachers on the same cohort where they are peer reviewed and discussed for further insights.

This teacher group is no small community, and the observations are blindingly transparent. The world of primary schools is significantly more adaptable and progressive than the counterparts in the high school sector.

The high school teachers on the postgrad course work in small rural schools through to large city colleges. Their teaching approach is, for the most part, restricted to delivery of subject and time-based classes that are defined by bells and timetables.

The secondary school students within these schools continue to learn within in these traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching environment.

Within their world their subjects are still, for the most part, delivered in silos and ‘teaching to the assessment’ is still the primary measure of education success.

While the real world of business and industry has adapted, adopted or disappeared in the face of technological advances and disruption, the high school learning experience has become stuck, unprepared for the students who are about to throw the legacy education model into disarray.

Just-in-time learning is an essential skill in today’s workplace. The ability to problem-solve challenges, find solutions and to collaborate with others are critical capabilities demanded by employers and valued by employees.

But within the high school system things move slowly. The over-arching burden of history, the weight of aged systems and processes, financial limitations and the absence of a government directed mandate to inform the need for change, holds the secondary system in limbo.

There is no better example of a redundant tradition that continues to exists than that of the school exam. The dated concept of students lining up to fill hundreds of chairs in a school hall once a year to measure their worth is well past its use by date.

Fortunately, today’s high school student is the last of the transitional student. These 13-18-year-olds have grown up in a mostly analogue world, and their technical capability is generally limited to being the consumer of apps and the user of social media.

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