Curious and Creative: the new wave of 21C Kiwi kids

November 2017


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How are schools, teacher educators and industry looking to equip our young people with the skills and competencies they’re going to need for the future? By JUDE BARBACK.

Curious and creative

Education is at a fascinating juncture as it attempts to break free from its shackles of rote learning and content acquisition to embrace the 21st century skills that advocates believe schools need to teach to help students thrive in today’s – and tomorrow’s – world.

The arrival of Auckland-based start-up 21C Skills Lab is challenging schools to think about what they’re teaching and how it relates to the jobs and workplaces of the future.

21C Skills Lab

The 21C Skills Lab was set up to encourage
New Zealand’s education system to recognise the importance of the new 21st century skill set – including skills like tenacity, creativity, curiosity and a growth mindset – as being necessary to thrive in the new world of work.

“The future of work is going to look very different, and we must be ready,” says co-founder Justine Munro. “We are heading into a world where many New Zealanders will have outdated skills, susceptible to automation and off-shoring, and are not well matched to new and emerging jobs.

“We know employers view these social and emotional skills as just as important as technical skills,” says Munro.

At a recent 21C Skills Lab event, chief executive of Callaghan Innovation Vic Crone, and chief executive of Genesis Energy Marc England were in agreement about the importance of the 21st century skill set. They described, from an employer’s perspective, the importance of arming young people with social and emotional competencies for the workplace.

Munro thinks New Zealand’s education system is ripe for such an approach. She points to its flexible assessment system, its great curriculum with its key competencies, and its motivated and capable teacher workforce.

ITE’s role

Munro sees teacher education providers playing a role in all of this. She wants to see teacher education programmes include two-week industry fellowships so that aspiring teachers can spend time getting to grips with the realities of the modern workplace and the demands of employers.

However, Massey University’s Professor John O’Neill believes teacher education should reflect the needs and wants of young people, rather than employers.

“I must admit to being far more interested in what children and young people would like to see in the teacher education curriculum than I am the views of industry and special interest groups.

“It is profoundly sad in my view that education is increasingly seen as valuable only when it offers preparation for paid work, rather than preparation for active lifelong citizenship.

“Indeed if we take the predictions of workforce futurists seriously we should be preparing young people for a complex portfolio career that includes work, leisure and unemployment.”

Massey’s teacher education programmes place emphasis on ‘service learning’ in which students work as volunteers in community and NGO settings.

“This provides an experience of contributing to community building which arguably is just as important as experience of work in the waged workplace,” explains O’Neill.

Assessing social and emotional skills

21C Skills Lab has partnered with US organisation ACT to bring to New Zealand the Tessera assessment system, which allows schools to measure and assess social and emotional competencies such as tenacity, responsibility, teamwork, curiosity, leadership and resilience. Evidence shows these competencies are enablers for life and work success.

In the Tessera assessment, students make judgements on how they are likely to respond to hypothetical situations. An example question asks students to describe how they will react to performing poorly in a maths test, for which they studied very hard. Will they focus on the questions they got wrong? Will they compare their result to others? Will they put it down to a fluke bad test and do nothing? There is no right or wrong answer, yet the answers are very telling about the competencies students possess.

New Zealand is the first country outside of the United States to use Tessera. The programme was customised for New Zealand and is currently being piloted in 12 Auckland secondary and intermediate schools and tertiary organisations – however the aim is to expand it to every intermediate and secondary school in New Zealand by 2021.

Schools that have the Tessera data now are at the stage of early analysis. Munro says schools might focus on a particular area, like conscientiousness. Or they might focus on a group of students, for example those that show tenacity.

Lynfield College’s experience

Lynfield College is participating in the pilot. Deputy principal Steve Mouldey is a strong advocate for incorporating 21s -century competencies into their learning.

“As a school we do well academically, however we have a growing interest in what students need. The skills that 21C Skills Lab put an emphasis on mirrored those that were raised by our community.”

The school was in the process of reviewing its learning charter, looking specifically at the learning values of their students. With the curriculum as the backdrop, it incorporated the views of its students, parents and teachers.

“At the point where we were about to release an updated version of the learning charter, we came across the 21C Skills Lab. It was good timing. It just made sense. It was a good fit with our learning values.”

The school set up Tessera testing for Y9 and Y10 students with 520 students completing the assessment

The test results have shown that overall, Lynfield students are doing well. However, it has also indicated areas they need to work on. Mouldey says further data crunching will reveal correlations between the findings and things like attendance, ethnicity and academic performance.

It’s already proving useful at the individual level. The Tessera test gave the chance for students to report on issues, which has opened the door to mentoring conversations and goal setting with students.

The Tessera findings and related analysis will also feed into their Community of Learning discussions around the Lynfield Graduate. Mouldey anticipates the intermediates will be interested in the findings.

He’s mindful of the test’s limitations, particularly that it is a one-off test on one day of the year.

“You could never use it in isolation,” he says.

Mouldey says Lynfield staff have really bought into the process with three heads of faculty and their SENCO all putting their hands up to be involved as well as the school’s middle leaders.

“This indicates to me that there is some real power in this.”


Is New Zealand’s education system really that future-focused?

The inaugural Worldwide Educating for the Future Index found that New Zealand has the most future-focused education system in the world. But local experts have questioned whether this is an accurate reflection. Education Review asks NZCER about what their research shows about our education system and whether it is really that future-focused.

Education Review: What are the most important components of any education system when it comes to preparing our young people for the future – and to what extent do you think New Zealand is achieving this?

NZCER: The question triggers broader questions of definition and purpose. Are we educating for a particular economic future? Or a set of environmental or social indicators? How do we characterise the future? Are we educating for individual and collective benefit?

The story about Makara Model School is an example of future-focused learning – where students gain from contributing and building new knowledge, or constructing or changing something in their environment, or a locality project that creates benefit for their environment. 

When we think about these questions, we come back to the paradox of preparing learners for the unknown future at the same time as delivering education in a system has made assumptions about what learners will need for that future.

NZCER thinks The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) is in line with the global trend towards competency-based frameworks. NZC provides one of the strongest frameworks internationally for weaving through the capabilities that are identified as future-focused – critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and communication. We haven’t backed it as well as we should for existing teachers; we will need more innovative approaches to initial teacher education too.

One of many challenges for the curriculum, and the teachers who deliver it, is to balance developing competencies within individuals and teaching knowledge in specific subject areas.

ER: How do we encourage and enable teachers to embrace a future-focused outlook?

NZCER: We have researched and contributed to programmes and initiatives that are exploring this question. Without looking at specific programmes, we can generalise to say teachers for the 21st century need to think differently to those who have taught before. This puts big demands on teachers and those who train them.

As well as thinking differently, teachers must be able to work in different kinds of classrooms, with technologies that are evolving. So even if we think of teaching as being purely about disciplinary knowledge, new ways of analysing and sharing knowledge means teachers face increasing demands and expectations. 

We hope you will put this question to the Education Council and the Colleges of Education.

ER: What do you think we need to improve on? Where next for New Zealand education?

NZCER: We suggest a future-focused education system is one that allows every learner to engage in lifelong learning. This applies to teachers as much as to learners, because the demands on teachers will continue to change. Additionally, we believe there is scope for the New Zealand system to increase and improve the alignment between schools, tertiary education, and workplace learning.

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