Teching up our future

Published on the 22/04/2021 | Written by Heather Wright

Technology in schools_NZTech

MoE throws funding into tech career pathways…

Public and private are coming together in a push to encourage young Maori, Pasifika and girls into a wide range of tech pathways, with an new pilot kicking off at this year’s Tech Week.

If the May 24 Tech21 Summit is successful the programme, designed to encourage and expose 12 to 14 year olds to technology and get them excited about the possibilities around technology, will be rolled out as ‘a more engaging programme’ around New Zealand, NZ Tech chief executive Graeme Muller says.

The Ministry of Education has underwritten the cost of the event, which stems from research late last year by NZ Tech, Ministry of Education and MBIE, which showed there was a big gap in Maori and Pacific engagement in tech education.

It’s like maths… it’s important to learn maths, but not everyone goes on to be a mathematician.

The Digital Skills Aotearoa survey painted a picture of lost opportunities. While the digital technology sector is one of the fastest growing parts of the New Zealand economy, generating billions of dollars in exports, creating thousands of jobs and enabling the digitalisation of the rest of the economy, it’s not proving an inspiring path for young Kiwis to pursue as a career.

The report showed decreasing participation in technology in education, with just 30 percent of senior secondary students taking any technology subjects in 2019 – a two percent decline year on year for the past five years.

“What we found from the research is that young students make career decisions based on what they can see and if they can see themselves in that direction,” Muller says.

Tech21 will feature Maori entrepreneurs and digital disruptors, themselves not far out of school, showcasing technology careers with storytelling and hands-on experience. Among the lineup are Ara Journeys CEO Amber Taylor, social entrepreneur Shay Wright, @girlbossnz founder Alexia Hilbertidou, Weta Digital’s Anne Taunga and Sir Ian Taylor.

The 1500 students attending the event at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau will also have the chance to engage with state of the art technology through the Imagine Zone, which features 30 to 40 organisations giving students a chance to further explore options.

Tech21 was instigated by the Ministry of Education after they saw the success of NZ Tech’s ShadowTech programme. That programme, sponsored by industry, runs in six towns and sees around 600 Year 9 and 10 girls shadowing a female in a technology job for a day. It has proven highly successful.

Muller says results from that programme show while the students have ‘a little bit of interest in tech but don’t see themselves going in that direction’ on entering the programme, the majority – in the mid 80 percent range – decide to take NCEA subjects that will set them up for a pathway into technology off the back of the day of shadowing.

Muller says if successful Tech21 is likely to rolled out to regions and schools around New Zealand, with some tweaking.

“Depending on how it works and what the outcome is the Ministry of Education will put in a budget if they want to continue to do it.”

Muller’s particularly happy to see the Ministry of Education involvement. “We’ve been saying we need to collaborate more and that for every dollar industry puts in, why doesn’t education put in a dollar as well so we can actually do something decent rather than it being so fragmented.”

But driving interest in technology is only one part of the solution to an ever growing problem, with work also to be done on the education side. While the curricula is in place from a policy perspective, it’s not necessarily in place from an activation perspective, Muller notes.

“The number of students doing digital technology is still in the low percentages whereas it is actually a subject or part of curricula which should be delivered across all schools at all year levels,” he says.

“So there is still a lot of work to be done in raising public awareness. The way the school system is set up the schools are really driven by the local community and principal and the skills they’ve got with the teachers there and the interest.

“We have to create the demand because if there’s no demand, there’s no desire from the schools to be investing heavily in teachers and resources to teach it. And at the same time we have to make sure we’re working with the Ministry of Education to see how tech companies can also support the schools locally, and the teachers, to make it realistic.”

That includes pumping students – and teachers and guidance counsellors – through the ShadowTech programme. NZTech recently ran a programme with the Ministry of Education to take 50 teachers and guidance counsellors into the ShadowTech programme so they too could see what tech careers can be. Muller says it was an eye opening experience for many of the teachers.

Muller has another bugbear. He believes too much focus is being put on coding and programming, making it harder to get a broader technology discussion going.

“To me it’s like learning maths. Ultimately everyone agrees it’s important to learn maths, but we also realise not everyone goes on to be a mathematician.

“At the moment the conversation is not like that in the tech space. The tech space too easily comes down to coding and the perceptions around that versus a whole lot of skills that are needed in terms of understanding how human interactions happen and how computers have to interact with humans in a certain way, how we manage computers in a certain way to do that, around algorithms, logical pathways of thinking, creative design so that we can engage with systems better, with cybersecurity, ethics, philosophy…

“There is a  whole range of things that need to be learned as students come through that will set them up, and they’re not all going to be experts in maths and data and coding.” Tech21 will be live streamed and recorded and played on TechTV.

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