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From Rotorua to Rapa Nui: New Zealand company Code Avengers goes global as EdTech market booms

Leading a coding workshop for underprivileged students on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in September. Hi-Tech Start-up Company of the Year runner-up at the 2018 NZ Hi-Tech Awards. More than two million users in more than 15,000 schools and universities in 14 different countries. An EdTech market that attracted more than US$89.15 billion from investors last year. It’s safe to say Aotearoa’s Code Avengers is well-placed to make waves overseas – and, more importantly, empower others to make waves.

When it comes to markets to break into, most companies from Aotearoa tend to be attracted to places that are already major players on the international stage, and also very large trading partners with New Zealand and Australia such as China, Europe and the United States.

So in that sense, what tech company Code Avengers is doing is already pretty unique – after all, Chile isn’t even the largest economy in South America. But Rapa Nui (Easter Island), famed for its giant, mysterious prehistoric stone statues? Now that’s really breaking into somewhere unique.

Yet that’s precisely what Code Avengers has done, securing an international contract that could see the company’s bespoke online digital technology courses embedded in underprivileged schools throughout Chile – including Rapa Nui.

In September, Code Avengers will deliver a three-day coding camp to 1,500 disadvantaged students and their teachers on Rapa Nui. The deal includes three years of continued access to Code Avengers’ online platform, providing interactive courses for the students and a wide range of resources for the teachers.

The initiative, sponsored by Spanish transnational telco giant Telefónica in partnership with indigenous community Ma’u Henua, follows extensive consultation with Chilean government officials and education ministers. If the camp is deemed a success, Telefónica will sponsor the roll-out of Code Avengers’ curriculum to schools of disadvantaged students throughout Chile.

But the Chilean push is just the latest of a number of moves Code Avengers has made. Code Avengers chief executive Hamish Day says the EdTech sector is becoming ever more important, as the impacts of digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will fall hardest on low-income and low-skilled workers and their families.

“Governments around the world are grappling with the fast pace of change and how to best empower their people and truly prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow, particularly in poorer communities,” he says.

Day says more. “I believe the automation and AI revolution will be as big as the industrial revolution. We need to ensure that not only that everyone is ready for these changes, but that they benefit from them! Engaging, affordable and effective education that actually provides you with market/job-ready skills is the future."

“Modern life is already so busy, I believe education also needs to be at the fingertips of those who need it most – available 24/7 to truly have an impact, and this is exactly what Code Avengers endeavours to provide.”

Day says the global EdTech sector in general is in a strong growth phase.

 “In China, the EdTech sector is estimated to be worth US$24 billion and annual growth is forecast at 20 percent each year for the next few years. In India, it’s expected to increase six-fold to US$1.96 billion during the next four years.”

The EdTech market attracted more than US$89.15 billion from global investors last year. From a business perspective, Day says the simple fact is there’s tremendous opportunity – and not just exclusively overseas.

“Global investors have been very focused on the adult education market, but we’ve found that the school student market is just as big, if not bigger,” he says.

“From 2020, New Zealand schools will be expected to deliver Digital Technologies to students in years 1 to 10 – that’s around 615,000 students, with a further 184,000 in years 11-13 that can take the subject as an elective. Code Avengers has worked with the Ministry of Education to develop resources for the curriculum, so we know it well. Digital Technologies is already mandatory in Australia, with many countries around the world following suit. Our product is provided on a per-student fee, so for us there is huge opportunity.”

The Code Avengers team is also diverse, as half of the company’s staff is of Māori or Pacific Island descent. The first company in the world to offer digital technology courses for years 1-13 which are fully aligned to the New Zealand curriculum, as well as being aligned to the curricula of several other countries including the Australia, and the UK – five to eight-year-olds start with learning such fundamentals as sorting data, giving and following instructions, and writing simple programs in visual languages.

Learners then progress through to advanced courses at senior levels, covering programming and web development in languages such as HTML, JavaScript, and Python. In addition, Code Avengers courses provide teachers with a suite of resources to support the delivery and monitoring of student learning, including live student tracking and analytics, lesson plans, quizzes, and more. Code Avengers courses are currently translated into Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese, with French and German in development. To date, Code Avengers’ custom-built interactive learning platform – CodeAvengers.com – has provided online coding, design and computer literacy programmes to more than two million registered students and adult learners in more than 15,000 schools and universities in 14 different countries around the world.

But Day says the company has bigger goals. He says Code Avengers is actively seeking corporate sponsors and also seeking further investors to help the company scale up.

“We are passionate about providing our services to poorer communities because the skills we provide are of direct relevance to their future economic well-being,” he says.

“We’ve been running free coding camps in partnership with the Ministry of Youth Development at schools such as Manurewa High School, Frazer High and Melville Intermediate which have been tremendously successful. We have also partnered with Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, to deliver code camps and ongoing support to Māori students."

“We’ve had high school students with no coding experience come into our camp and after three days have been able to create an app, a website or a game from scratch. A number of these kids have parents with small businesses and they’ve been able to go home and help improve the website and add features which are of direct relevance to the family business. This is why Governments such as Chile’s are so keen to get our EdTech courses in their schools – because it’s proven, it works and it makes a real difference.”

And no matter how Code Avengers – the Hi-Tech Start-up Company of the Year runner-up at the 2018 NZ Hi-Tech Awards – does with its plans for growth, Day says Aotearoa is well-placed to be a global leader in not only EdTech, but in using technology to make people’s lives better around the world.

“New Zealand is at no real disadvantage, as geographic location is no longer such an issue,” he says. “We have ultra-fast broadband getting rolled out throughout the country, and we are a strong community of innovative entrepreneurs who are willing to make the most of the opportunities we have been given. We come at this from a great place, in many ways.”

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