Future Fit

Are our kids future fit? Notes from the 21C Skills Lab public seminar on developing #FutureFit tamariki, some of my own musings and a blast from the past video that includes me from high school.

Liza’s one sentence summary

Great kiwis are working hard to make sure our tamariki have the skills to navigate the high-tech future world as well-rounded, competent people, but we still need all hands on deck to get them there.

I live Tweeted the event on the Talent Solutions account, so you can check out this thread for the TL;DR version.

See the end of this post for some brief thoughts on how I think this connects to mental health.

Favourite quote of the night:

“My 13 years old can do better PowerPoint presentations than most of my team can do.” - Vic Crone

Though this is closely followed by Marc England’s comments on starting work.

Introduction and mihi

I love living in a country where an opening speech is followed by a waiata!

Faye Langdon and Justine Munro are the co-founders of the 21C Skills Lab. I still don’t know exactly what that is, but I do know what they want to achieve, which is probably more interesting anyway.

Welcome from Dean of AUT Business School, Professor Kate Kearins

AUT is setting up an new business degree. I’m an unironic buzzword lover, and Kearins didn’t disappoint. Young people will have “portfolio careers” and be “jungle gyming” instead of climbing the career ladder. They want to turn out “T-shaped” graduates, which are grads with a depth of knowledge as well as being able to reach out across disciplines and be “cross-functional”.

What is 21C Skills Lab?

This has been a launch week for 21C Skills Lab. Their core question is: Are the skills we’re teaching young New Zealanders the skills that the 21st century needs? (What skills are these? And follow-up, how do we assess these?)

The skills that young Māori and Pacific students were found to be strong in, human-centred skills, weren’t being valued as highly as a small suite of technical and academic skills. Learning, relearning and unlearning in the future will require these abilities and they should be valued too. Faye Langdon says soft skills are “soft” no more. They will be highly competitive.

They wanted to make it clear that this isn’t just bashing teachers for not doing enough. There are four critical audiences for their work: young people, teachers, parents, employers.

How to assess 21C skills? The Tessera Project

The team talks about 21C skills in the following framework: use, know, be and grow.

From the 21C website

From https://www.21cskillslab.com/what-21c-skills/

They are working with ACT’s Tessera product to develop evidence based ways to assess these skills. We are the first outside the US to use this to assess six skills. So far a 4000 student pilot with 12 schools/universities has been run.

Goal: By 2021 all NZ intermediate and secondary schools will be assessing social and emotional skills.

Who are ACT?

Cristina Anguiana and Jonathan Martin from ACT.

A 50 year old US company that is best known for running a college entrance test that is even bigger than the SATs. “Mission driven, research based, nonprofit.”

The ACT Holistic Framework is the culmination of 3 years of research into what competencies are the most important for success in the modern world.

They offer a range of assessment products from elementary school right through post-secondary and the workforce.

How do you select the important skills?

Four Ms: Meaningful, multi-cultural, malleable, measurable.

Meaningful starts with the “Big 5” personality domains: agreeableness, conscientous, emotional stability, openness, extraversion. These are known to be predictive of academic success.

An audience member made the point that it seems to suggest that a specific personality type is more successful. Cristina tried to separate these skills from these personality traits…but I think this needed a bit more explanation.

Evidence that these non-cognitive social and emotional skills are at least as important as academic skills to most employers.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of this slides, but Cristina reported that a $1 investment in social and emotional learning returns on average $11 of financial gain.

Malleable: These skills can be improved at any age - these aspects of personality are not immutable.

Tessera skills

  1. Tenacity/grit
  2. Organisation/responsibility
  3. Teamwork/cooperation
  4. Composure/resilience
  5. Curiosity/ingenuity
  6. Leadership/communication

Assessed though self-report items, situational judgement and forced choice.

Results in NZ (so far)

Valid - measuring what they mean to measure. Comparable to the US results. Assessment showed little to no ethnicity gaps. Increasing the importance we place on these skills also allows us to recognise the skills and talents of minority groups.

My concerns…

I wish I’d got the chance to ask about the following. Let me know if you have any thoughts on these… @Liza_Bolton on Twitter, #FutureFit.

  • Will we just have a generation of kids that are really good at taking tests to give you what you want to hear?
  • Teaching to assessment could go to a whole new level of crazy.
  • I would like to know what the test re-testability is.

Panel Discussion


  • Vic Crone - CEO, Callaghan Innovation
  • Claire Amos - Deputy Principal, Hobsonville Point and NZ Education Council
  • Marc England - CEO, Genesis Energy
  • Jonathan Martin - Education consultant, ACT

Chaired by Justine Munro.

Vic Crone

We are facing exponential growth in technology. Data storage costs are halving every 18 months. Our next decade is going to be full of rapid growth. AI and big data analytics will be key tools. A world of “collective intelligence”. Machines analyse, humans judge and add context and emotion.

Other countries are raising kids with greater drive and curiosity than we are right now. Kids born now will mostly live to 100. Their careers won’t be 40 years, they’ll be 60 or 70.

Marc England

Genesis is hiring more software engineers than mechanical engineers. Fear that Australian companies, where their graduate output in tech does not match their demand will compete with Kiwi businesses for our tech grads.

Jonathan Martin

Parents kinda want their kids to be taught the way they were because that is what they understand. Teachers also want to teach as they were taught.

Made me think of Hans and Ola Rosling’s excellent video “How not to be ignorant about the world”.
One of the reasons they think we’re all so ignorant: “Teachers tend to teach outdated worldviews. Because they learned something when they went to school and now they describe this world to the students without any bad intentions.”

Claire Amos

Hobsonville Point Secondary School is still learning and growing and doesn’t claim to be a finished product yet. They want students to have agency and ownership of their learning. Project based and connected. Claire agrees that parents find it challenging when their child isn’t in a standard, recognisable “Maths” class or “English” class.

Hobsonville has “form classes on steroids”. These are about a third of student time, and another third is project based - “we not me” focus, working with community groups. They have worked with the Hobsonville Land company to design the local parks. Authentic projects. In senior school these projects become more impact based. One student is working on making CT scanners more child friendly. Another student is up for a Bright Sparks award for a project around charging your phone while running, linking your devices and your health.

The rest of student time has slightly more traditional learning modules, but these are still very integrated, because that is what the NZ curriculum says they should be doing. “There is nothing stopping us transforming the education system in New Zealand”. Need to take our families and communities with us. We already have a very flexible qualification pathway.

Shout out to Richard Wells and his work on the development of our curriculum.

Gotta say, little ol’ Te Awamutu was well ahead of the curve with the SPLICE project and Rosetown Learning Community of the late 2000s. Great old school (in both senses) video here.. You Have a Message - students have been asking to engage with their communities for a long time As part of the project we read through the draft curriculum document, and I remember being so excited and delighted by it. This really connected with a lot of the conversation tonight. We have some incredible frameworks, now it is just a matter of support and resources.

Lefy-Liza about to draw all over the draft curriculum

Audience Questions

To Claire: How do you work with families? “Mondays with Maurie” (Principal) and open door policies. Co-constructed vision of what graduates would look like with potential students and families right from the start. HPSS doesn’t do NCEA level 1. NZQA want us to be innovative and creative in our use of NCEA and ERO want student wellbeing to be at the centre of what we do. Openness and communication are key.

Follow up: How do you manage families and kaiako that are resistent to change? As a green-field school everyone knew what they were getting in to. The changes can still be challenging once you’re on the ground though, and reversion to old tendencies can happen. Critical friendships, and “warm and demanding” professional relationships are adopted to keep to the kaupapa. Always checking back that students are at the heart of the work. Claire believes that this brings teachers on board.

Moving away from NCEA? No, still aiming for high quality level 2 and 3 (where appropriate) NCEA qualifications, but also widening measures of success. NZQA is also trialing certifying micro-credentials. Self-driving car engineering example.

Justine to Marc: What is the role of business in supporting schools? How can be break down the boundaries? There was the SchoolGen project - solar panels on roofs of schools and doing teaching about energy and power. It ran for 10 years but they have stopped it now. They will launch a new project in January. Curriculum material created about business (energy and gas). 1/3 of schools have 3D printers - one plan is for turbine blade blueprints to be made available for download that can be used with water and bottles to do activities around energy generation.

Marc on starting his first job : “It took me a year or two to even be able to do the job.” He’d done summer placements and had some experience, but still felt he had no idea what was going on. Then he went and did an MBA and after that got a corporate finance job. And it still took 10 months to be able to do the job.

Claire to Marc sponsor some hackathons!

Justine a big focus of 21C Skills Lab is around improving teacher capabilities. One goal will be that trainee teachers spend at least 2 weeks actually in a business.

Vic “The majority of the country has no flippin’ idea what the country is going to look like in 10 years.” Don’t be shy, we’re going on a journey together.

“My 13 years old can do better PowerPoint presentations than most of my team can do.” - Vic Crone

“Students should be working in real world contexts.” - Jonathan Martin

Jonathan also noted that we need to show parents the evidence of impact. Show powerful student work, “on our websites and our walls”. He also supported the idea that our current system here in Aotearoa allows for fantastic integrated learning if we are brave enough to take that up.

This conversation pairs nicely with the Qualtrics Experience Week video that came out recently. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit (which is very much on my ‘to read’ list) was one of the keynotes. My favourite quote: “Skill is what happens when talent is multiplied by effort.” Duckworth also talks about the cycle of deliberate practice: set a goal, 100% focus, get feedback, reflect and refine. Deliberate practice requires 21C skills.

Some closing thoughts about 21C skills and mental health

Firstly, I’m really looking forward to seeing what is next for 21C Skills Lab. Partly, though it didn’t come up tonight, because I feel like many of these skills (see the six Tessera ones) are also important for mental health. AND supporting young people’s mental well being will be a prerequisite for the development and use of these skills in the modern world.

I had the pleasure recently of talking over dinner to an incredible high school teacher in her first year of teaching. We talked a lot about the anxiety, self-harm, and fear of failure she encounters in her students. This RNZ article about 1 in 3 NZ secondary school students self-harming had just come out that morning and we were all surprised and upset by it and feeling lost about what we could do. If you want to pair this with a similarly disquieting long read, this piece in the Atlantic “Has the smartphone destroyed a generation” is concerning and important.

So what have I learned? There are great people doing great work for our tamariki, but I think we need all hands on deck to make sure the next generations have the skills (soft, hard, everything in between) to navigate the uncharted waters of our high-tech future world.

Where to get help:

(this list is pulled from the RNZ article - link to websites there as well)

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Written on October 18, 2017

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