Technology Education Policy in Election 2017
I had the privilege to spend several hours with a very gifted teacher this weekend discussing what we need to do in New Zealand to bolster the technology industry via way of government policy and direction.
I'm writing about government policy that is, awfully slowly, being released in relation to the tech sector. Education is a cornerstone policy that I think so far has been weak. It tends to rely on more archaic thinking including the isolationist "STEM" view, which, in my opinion, is not nearly broad enough to create educated graduates in a rapidly evolving world.
Nor do current policy statements deal with other issues such as how effective tertiary education is, rapid training, and the fact that a lot of grads, anecdotally (perhaps 75%), are not finding work in the local industry.
In the digital manifesto released by various industry groups the goal of education policy is that "New Zealand equips every child with the digital technology skills needed to be safe and successful in a digital world through comprehensive Digital Technology education."
It's a pretty boring statement and the wider recommendation is to throw more resource at the current education system, potentially throwing good money after bad. It's not innovative.
Another educator I spoke to gave me a metaphor for what education is attempting to do in the digital space.
He said that basically education are trying to reinvent the cart. Put GPS on it, make it more modern, more relevant, pack it with technology, however the problem is that it is still hitched to the same old donkey.
We need to change the donkey, not so much the cart.
The reality is that technology change is outstripping the education process, particularly at tertiary level. We are not just talking about computer science or traditional STEM degrees, we are also talking about other professions, such as Law.
A lot of education paths are teaching material that is redundant within months let alone years, and we must either accelerate the pathways or change them so we produce adaptable and resilient graduates.
That means a rethink of the current tertiary system in total and you run into a wall of resistant academics who combine rigid thinking with a sense of knowing better than the rest of us coupled with a commercial drive by, particularly universities, which creates trapped thinking.
The teacher friend I spoke to this weekend suggest we replace STEM with SHTEAM. It's not a catchy acronym, it stands for; Science, Humanities, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics.
She's a teacher that educates in both Arts and Technology and it's an interesting view.
Rather than having a raw STEM focus, adding in humanities and arts produces far more rounded and adaptable students.
Internationally, particularly in Silicon Valley, the move to hire STEM graduates is dropping. The large technology companies are now looking to hiring creatives, particularly those with art qualifications.
That's because that creative thread allows for more imagination, better innovation, and the breaking of traditional engineering and Rational Thinking. Rational thinking, especially in relation to management, is the curse of modern innovation and is slowly sliding into obsolescence though it's practitioners are holding on until the bitter end.
That SHTEAM approach allows for a much more holistic educated graduate. As well as sciences, they are imbued with the way that humanity operates and have a creative streak that allows that imaginative innovation to fire.
We need to break the stranglehold that tertiary institutions have on this education "market." They are not going to change their business models and will fade into irrelevance. Pouring more money into those donkeys is going to produce the same results that we see today.
Education has been disrupted by the tech sector and just like every other sector it is fighting for survival. Rather than adaptation occurring it is sticking rigidly to dogma that has been in place since World War II.
They need to be honest with themselves and disrupt their own practices before they collapse. That means completely fresh thinking and a paradigm shift in learning.
Government needs to set aside research and development resource to understand how they can leap-frog the current education paradigm to something new. A think tank of individuals who have already made that shift from the donkey to the super-charged engine of the 21st Century would be a great start.
Ian Apperley is well known to many in the ICT industry as both participant and commentator and craft beer apologist.
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