What does the New Zealand economy tell us about the future of education?

This is the fourth post in a series, sharing some reading I have been doing recently though a paper on education futures which, by the way, I would absolutely recommend.

This post is about the book “Get off the grass: Kickstarting New Zealand’s innovation economy.” by Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan.

get off the grass


A bit of a summary:

Hendy and Callagahan argue that New Zealand is in a bit of strife. They discuss the ‘New Zealand paradox’ where we have all the conditions to create growth – we rank highly in ease of starting a business, access to legal and political rights and free trade,  plus low corruption and tax rates. However, we don’t see the prosperity you would expect – “we don’t fit the theory that if a country meets the laissez-faire criteria for prosperity, prosperity should follow.”

The authors point to an over dependence on agriculture and primary resources, as well as a reliance on our ‘clean green’ brand, as the problem. They suggest we need to move away from this, to a more knowledge and innovation based economy.

To do this, Hendy and Callagahan suggest some changes to our economy. Firstly, innovators need to collaborate more – bigger cities see more patents but we don’t have big cities, so we need to find ways to collaborate effectively on a more national scale. We need to break down barriers between companies in order to share information both within the country and overseas. Information needs to be shared between people with “weak ties”, whose knowledge compliments each other. In order to do this, more needs to be spent on research and development as well as setting up systems to help connect people with complimentary ideas. We also need to alter our country’s self-perception towards a nation of knowledgeable people, not just people of the land.  This, as well as a bigger focus on science and technology, should result in more ideas, more diversity in products and more novel products.


My response to/thinking about this text:

What are people studying at tertiary level?

As I was reading this, I was thinking about how this applies to education and I remembered an article in the news about a year ago worrying about the way there were so few agriculture graduates. So I wondered whether this was still the case, and whether young people were already going for different careers. I came across this article, saying that student numbers in agricultural science degrees are actually on the rise again! So then, what are people graduating with qualifications in? I came across this (hopefully not too out of date) summary from the 2013 census:



So if the authors are right, and we need more scientists and technologically minded people, our graduates in these areas look potentially promising to my untrained eye. Especially if they need to connect with those who have the business skills to get their ideas off the ground. I also notice the kinds of graduates that might have the ‘soft skills’ that computers don’t seem to have yet and there appear to be graduates of that sort too.


What do we teach in schools?

Since the book was so strong on science and technology, it made me think…. It is a bit of a conundrum, what we should be teaching in schools! Do students need basic literacy and numeracy skills? Do they need ‘soft skills’ and competencies? What about science and technology? What about the lack of focus we have on creativity? How can we even make predictions around this, when we have no idea what the future will hold? Which makes you question what the purpose of an education system even is!



The part of the book about connecting people with ‘weak ties’ also made me think. I wonder how we make this happen with teachers and educationalists. When I think of my networks, the people I associate with have pretty similar ideas. On Twitter, I pick like-minded people to follow, I attend events and conferences with people who all talk about the same sort of ideas in what feels like a bit of an echo chamber, I’ve chosen to do a paper centering on ideas that I’ve thought a fair bit about, I’ve even chosen a critical friend who shares very similar ideas… My interactions with people who don’t echo similar ideas to me are fairly slim and I’d imagine most teachers are in the same boat. Perhaps this is why education is seen to be a bit stagnant….



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