Based solely on the tools on offer in many Kiwi classrooms, it's hard to believe it's 2016. Simply put, the tech in our schools just isn’t usually up to snuff with what we’ve got at home.
But guess what: there’s a startup working to change that – and perhaps the very way we learn.
Banqer, a Christchurch-based company which offers financial education software that allows students to learn about finance by earning money and spending it on classroom-based activities, is betting the proverbial bank that 'edutech' is the way everyone will one day learn about money.
Co-founder Kendall Flutey says education technology is key for not only teaching students, but immersing them in the content they are studying – a far cry from the days of simple rote learning from a textbook.
“I feel the most exciting aspect of edutech is that it’s a way to immerse students into learning, rather than simply delivering content to them,” she says.
“Student interaction with new platforms, ideas, and concepts transforms learning from a passive event, to a very much involved one. Arguably though, the real importance of edutech in New Zealand is that learning can find its way into places it wouldn’t have otherwise. It can trickle out of the stipulated classroom hours, and onto a school bus, or into the home. It’s important that the providers of edutech can protect this, by designing products that are accessible to all.”
Flutey adds the progressive thinking of many Kiwis also means the country is in a fantastic position to become a world leader in the field.
“We are already extremely progressive in our thinking around schooling, with ILEs (Interactive Learning Environments) being testament to that,” she explains.
“Given the fluidity in our curriculum in terms of how things are delivered, we do have an opportunity to adopt edutech strongly in our classrooms. I think New Zealand is already teaching the world a lot, in terms of questioning what a classroom environment looks and sounds like.”
Still, there’s much for us still to learn, Flutey says.
“One mindset that could be strengthened – and I'm sure will be over time – is that we need to stop compartmentalising learning,” she explains.
“New Zealand classrooms – particularly primary and intermediate – are certainly heading this way, but greater emphasis needs to go into it. In reality, subjects are extremely interrelated, yet we treat them as though they need to be self-contained. This became extremely evident to us when we began to campaign for financial education in schools through Banqer, as some teachers or principals argue a full timetable. If we keep viewing the classroom as a zero-sum game, we are going to be the losers. We cannot afford to fear cross-subject contamination – you don’t only need to learn maths in a dedicated maths hour. The same applies for all subjects.”
Based out of the GreenHouse collaborative hub in Christchurch, Banqer was formerly based in Wellington until relocating to the South Island earlier this month.
But Flutey swears she has only positive things to say about Wellington and its startup scene.
“It is a fantastic place to launch a start-up,” she says.
“The networks and community in place are extremely strong, and I don’t think we could have launched from a better city. Christchurch obviously faces a few challenges, but from what I’ve seen so far the beginnings of something very special is in place. In particular, there is a lot happening in the innovation precinct that you don’t really know about until you are fully immersed in the community here.”
Already used in classrooms throughout New Zealand, in October last year Banqer took home the Best Innovation in Show Award at the Affiliation Fintech Showcase in Sydney. In winning the honour, Banqer beat out 30 other Australian and Kiwi financial technology startups.
Edutech may still sound like a foreign concept to some, but there are some big companies getting on board. Banqer supporters include Kiwi Bank, KPMG, the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ), the Young Enterprise Trust and Mike Greer Homes, so clearly there’s an expectation that it will take off.