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Conquering the digital curriculum: Voluntari.ly calls for design and tech workers to help Kiwi kids and teachers

A bunch of New Zealand’s top tech education figures have come together to create Voluntari.ly, a platform for workers to pass along their skills and resources to students and teachers to help tackle digital education. And this weekend, a hackathon is taking place in Auckland to help build the platform to transfer these skills on.

Voluntari.ly’s creation helps tackle two key problems: an increasing number of companies giving their employees volunteer days that go unused, and a crippling need for educators to teach digital tech or STEAM to students.

As we explored in our feature on Claire Amos’ efforts to digitise the education system earlier this year, proposed reviews to the NCEA curriculum have been called ‘shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic instead of avoiding the iceberg’ by a group of secondary school principals. And yet, the need for change is very real: the McKinsey Global Institute reports that there will be 38 to 40 million fewer workers who will gain tertiary education (postgraduate or university degrees) than employers will need, while automation will wipe at least 30 percent of the current jobs in a few decades, and 60 percent of children at school will be in jobs that do not exist yet.

In a New Zealand context, the new Digital Technology Curriculum launched in December last year and the Ministry of Education reports that by 2020, 29,000 primary and intermediate teachers will be required to teach digital tech or STEAM, with 2500 schools across the country to cover, yet minimal resources.

Talking to students who’ve recently graduated, they’re hungry to learn about these high-tech concepts, but find the education system to be lacking.

“There’s so many exciting technologies that are going to change our world, and potentially change the next 30 years more than the last 200,” 18-year-old William Reynolds told Idealog earlier this year. “Nanotechnology, VR, AR, robotics, drones, AI, self-driving cars. Anti-aging is a serious thing, there’s a good chance you and I are going to live to 110 or 120. We could be in a flying car in a few years – in Hong Kong they’re trialing flying cars next year. There’s a good chance some humans will be on Mars in the next 30 years. We’re shown none of it [in school] – just the traditional pathways and that’s it.”

Enter Voluntari.ly. The volunteering platform was launched just over a week ago by Big Shift Education, a collaborative movement of for-profit and social-profit organisations in New Zealand. Some of those bringing their expertise to the project include Vaughan Rowsell and Zoe Timbrell, the brains behind the not-for-profit organisation OMGTech that helps teach kids how to use future tech.

The idea behind Voluntari.ly is simple: the volunteering platform will arm corporate volunteers with industry experience with pre-prepared content to help students and teachers to help them on their journey through learning a digital education.

According to the organisation, there are 100,000 corporate volunteer days which go unused each year, and this is predicted to grow to 300,000. It aims to change this – but first, it needs to build a platform to streamline its operations out of.

The two-day hackathon being held this weekend aims to gather a bunch of movers and shakers together to build a concept for the product, with a call to action put out to educators, scientists, project managers, designers, content creators and principals to come help build the platform that will be the foundation for Voluntari.ly.

Saturday will be a design day, where people will imagine how the user design of the app will look, while Sunday will be a build day focused on building the front end of the app to be tested with users. Organisations such as Datacom, Spark, Microsoft, Fusion and Xero are on board with the event.

The goal? To bring schools, companies and volunteers to pool their resources and work together on a common cause: teaching more New Zealand kids STEAM.

The Voluntari.ly platform is also aimed at a raft of organisations and not just high-tech companies.

Previously, OMGTech focused on bringing tech companies and high schools together, but with Voluntar.ily, corporates such as banks and telecommunications providers can also play a part in helping by paying forward their skills to students or teachers.

Find out more information about the Hackathon here.

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