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No VR, AR, biotech, blockchain or AI – a student asks the education system, please prepare us better for the real world

William Reynolds recently graduated from high school and is pursuing a career in the tech sector, but he had to use his own initiative to educate himself and explore new technologies, like AR/VR, AI and blockchain, rather than being taught it. Here, he explains why more young people need to be exposed to these exciting new industries through the education system. 

Seven months ago I finished Year 13, and now I’m based halfway across the globe in Silicon Valley. Over the last few months, I have been reflecting on my last years in school — particularly on how my peers and I have been prepared for going on to the real world and university. I want to share an easy to solve issue which helps make up the huge gulf that exists between how the education system should be preparing us, and how it actually is.

There is plenty of rhetoric that the education system needs fixing, as it doesn’t prepare students for the real world. But the extent of this tragedy isn’t fully apparent until you understand how students are letting a world of opportunity slip by, as they leave high school completely unaware of how our world is rapidly changing.

This is a big claim, and it’s easy to say, but I’m not here to point fingers. Any small, initial change we can make that will be a significant step towards a future that would change Kiwi teens’ lives, and New Zealand, for the better.

The current situation and three big issues with it

For the last four years, I have pursued a path less travelled in my spare time – an entrepreneurial path which has opened my eyes to the world outside of high school. It has had me intern at investment companies, fly to Warren Buffett’s US conference with a group of Kiwi investors, start small businesses, host a conference to inspire 100 youth, get involved in the angel investment scene and win a trip to San Francisco with five other Young Enterprise students. I’ve had my eyes opened to the world around me and seen the technology scene in a way that very few high school students are fortunate to…yet many could if they were shown it.

William Reynolds and Rachel Li 

In high school, at least at mine and all the ones at which I had friends, there are few pathways shown to us. All we hear about is broad engineering, and traditional linear career paths in commerce, medicine, law, the arts and the trades. The pathway is clear: get through your work at school, then go to university or into a trade. In these five years at high school most people just spend their spare time getting through school work, browsing social media, watching Netflix, hanging out with mates and maybe doing part-time jobs.

We are barely (or never) exposed to contemporary industries or shown how our world is going to change in the next 5, 10, 20 years. This is such a big issue, which urgently needs changing, for three reasons:

  1. There are so many exciting, new and developing fields that students don’t get exposed to, and therefore are unaware of pathways where they could excel in, or be passionate about, if given the chance.
  2. In school, we are shown careers as the dependable linear pathway that they have been for the last 50 years. But there is no more linear. In the next few years many of those careers will be irrevocably changed. A confluence of factors will mean that in the next 20 years, our world is going to change more than in the last 200.  Students going through university need to be aware of this so they don’t get blindsided by change after they graduate.
  3. In this day and age, with the ability to learn — nearly for free — almost anything we want online, unprecedented change on our doorstep, and the ability to broadcast our voices to every corner of the globe: there are so many rewarding ways students could use their spare time. Like, advocating for issues they care about, starting businesses or even just learning and exploring more about developing industries. But currently in high school, we aren’t shown that we have the power to actually make stuff happen. As a result not enough of us know we have the ability to be part of this exciting new world, and so just spend their time on the sidelines.

For the last two years having been surrounded by incredible people developing companies and technologies to change the world; having seen the ability we teens have to learn about and work on things; and having seen all these incredible world-changing technologies we could get involved in… I see so many different paths young people could and should be pursuing. Pathways that would lead them to the top of different exciting industries or starting their own projects and leading innovation in our country.

To give examples rather than just talking in buzzwords, some of these ‘huge, exciting industries’ that will shape our future, and students need to be exposed to, include:

RoboticsArtificial Intelligence
3D printing / Additive ManufacturingVirtual and Augmented Reality
DronesNanotechnology
Autonomous and flying vehiclesBlockchain
Sensors and networksAnti-aging research
Biotechnology and ‘Smartwear’Brain Enhancements

Without being exposed to these possibilities or technologies in high-school, students risk being blindsided coming out of the education system into a dramatically changing world.

Looking at the year group who graduated alongside me: not many of them actually know how the world is going to change. Not many know that in our lifetimes we will be travelling in flying cars and will quite likely see humans land on Mars. Ask students how food production will drastically change in the next 15 years, how the internet of things will likely influence the way our future world operates, how rapid advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and drones will drastically change entire industries and most will struggle to provide a meaningful answer.

That isn’t our fault. We aren’t taught or shown it in school. This is a travesty for us students and a sad indictment on our education system. But, to be fair, most teachers and educators aren’t aware of these things either. You’re too busy dedicating your lives to helping teach us and push us to become the best we can—you haven’t had time to widen your lens enough to see the world dynamic drastically changing under your feet.

This system needs to change though. There are big changes on the cards and awesome people working hard to revamp the system. But in the meantime, simply putting a few hours of class time aside to expose kids to future technologies can be done. And it needs to be done now.

My personal path has been business and start-ups, but it doesn’t have to be business: people are doing incredible things using their voices for causes they care about, whether it’s climate change, feminism, domestic abuse or depression. Female empowerment and STEM education. Rallying events and raising awareness about upcoming issues. Working on interesting technology projects, robotics or environmental clean-ups. It could be in politics, business, technology, science, drama or film-making. We just need to be aware of the coming change, and need to be shown that we have this power to learn more about, or take action on anything we care about.

How parents and educators can change this

If I could see one change in the system, it would just be having a few classes in school, or parents at home, showing my generation future technologies and what impacts they can have. Ideally, being prompted to think about the severe implications some of these technologies have and prompted to form their own judgements. And then, shown that there are places they can go to learn more if these interest them, and they have the ability to have strong impacts on the world.

The most important thing that you can start doing is to take time to expose yourself to the significant changes that are occurring, and the future of work for my generation. Then you need to show and share the impacts these technologies could have on our future. In doing this, you will open students’ eyes to the future and the world around them, and you can inspire students to take action (whether by simply showing them places they can learn further on technologies, or getting them to brainstorm ways they could actually impact big issues).

It will mean you have to learn yourself – but you don’t need to know everything. You just need to know the basics and then you can probe, question and get them thinking – then let the next generation discover the best options themselves.

Just exposing students to this – you could spark an interest and inspire kids to start down a path they could have never dreamed of. A career that leads them to work in a field that impacts all of society and leads positive world change.

This piece was originally published on Education Central

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