Upgrading education to IR 4.0: Responding to Global Innovation and Digital 2020 adoption challenges

In recent years, significant investments have been made in development of Digital 2020 education curriculum. Where Schools are now obligated to adopt Digital 2020, the adoption has been problematic. Given New Zealand's continued performance recorded within recent Global Innovation data, major sectors bulking at global circumstances and local-taxation threats (Dairy and Tourism) and noting the curriculum was a response to industry’s concerns over New Zealand’s growing talent crisis, seed innovation threads from earlier in the system and to upgrade school strategy and educator practice to the Industrial Revolution 4.0 era - this presents challenges.

Digital 2020

With this, the Digital 2020 framework (not necessarily the actual curriculum) enables (can enable) schools of a more trans-actional, mass-delivery, sorting machine model, aligned with the Industrial Revolution version 1.0 era’, to renew, and play different roles, for high capability talent development and even industrial-output producers via fundamentally new educator practice, experiential, digitally-rich real-world learning environments. Thus, to understand the education sector's Digital 2020 adoption challenges, and to put forward solutions, reviewing Global Innovation (and other) data provides clues.

Back drop & Data

In plotting the last decade of Global Innovation data, the 3-year run up to the 2019 findings continues to highlight the impacts of status-quo education with NZ slumping further to 27th(!) worldwide. Indeed, the data highlights the difficulties of such change with what is a 20 year+ bitter not-so-sweet relationship between nostalgic education and industry-talent development challenges; amid emerging international nations focused on eco-system transformation and innovation. In New Zealand’s case, as media, data and educationalists all say, the problem is that most of education remains unable and ill-prepared to adopt the priority means for transformation including the recent Digital 2020 curriculum “solution”.

That said, and although the current reality may offer gloomy reading, there are solutions through green-shoots initiatives which challenge and are actively changing the paradigm of education.

Strikingly, particularly over the last 3 years, New Zealand has pivoted back from a slowing decline (a positive change) to a worsening and steep decline (and also across most indices) having regressed 8 places to 25th in the World. Deteriorating industry sophistication data lines up with waning local business confidence, weakening knowledge transfer (across the eco-system); coupled to challenges with the quality of education-talent development noticeably across Secondary and Tertiary.

Although political and media narratives promote “significant investments occurring in education”, particularly with teacher-pay, the actual investment in education, the backbone of New Zealand’s future, has slumped to 4.9% of GDP with a growing population. At a front line or learner level, no further investment has occurred into core-programme modernisation or digital technologies (for Digital 2020). Indeed, New Zealand has slumped 13 places to 47th in the world for actual expenditure per pupil; within a 6 place drop in governmental effectiveness since 2016. MOE grant data shows many New Zealand schools run their digital and ICT operations, and are forced to draw into core-funding, with a funding equivalent to approximately a 1/3 of an ICT technical support practitioner. These presents a challenge upgrading school technology from suitability to Industrial Revolution 1.0 to 4.0 to support Digital 2020 and the education needs of the modern idea and digital economy. 

Unsurprisingly, this limits the adoption of quality-digital tools which would eat into the $ 2.6bn of administrative wastage in education. Indeed, as schools are incentivised to maintain traditional education and legacy systems only fit for IR 1.0 (early 20th Century), Global innovation data helps to explain the high workload experienced by teachers in terms of New Zealand dropping to 61st in the world for the worst-pupil teacher ratios. Consequently, with a system awash massive, and often replicated, paper-based processes (registers are still used), 58% of the average teacher’s role is administration. This corresponds to just 0.7% of the education spend (investment) translating into an ‘engaged learning state’ (of learners), across the sector (associated to the same obsolete trans-actional mass-delivery, chalk/talk, post-learning assessment).

The effects are inter-generational and cascade into industry, effecting NZ’s place in the world. The last 3 years have also shown noticeable steeper declines in the transfer of knowledge-quality through layers of the socio-educational-industrial system. New Zealand has slumped further to 48th in the world as an overall rating of the quality of knowledge work (idea generating and skilled talent) in terms of developing sophisticated businesses within the IR 4.0 era. Key GI indicators show:

  • Research talent in firms falters at 36th in the world.

  • Creative outputs, are down to 23rd as are trademark applications to 22nd.

  • Industrial design applications, down to 54th.

  • ICT & new business model creation, reflecting the 3-year sharp decline, down to 23rd in the world.         

  • ICT imports have declined to 49th in the world (in contrast to improving trends mid-2000’s),

  • Foreign direct investments have stalled at 115th in the world.

Given this, it is unclear why billions $ of risk capital are being poured into the regions without modernising a nostalgic education system. Global Innovation data and regenerative methods rely upon creating a highly connected eco-system with a talent-backone to foster, develop and then normalize change, creativity and differentiation. Or, put another way, in knowledge diffusion terms, New Zealand has also declined, in contrast to mid-2000 improvements, to 82nd in the world.

Thus, what are the core issues holding New Zealand’s talent development system (education) and recent transformational changes?

  1. Recent NCEA transformations and “online assessment” reinforces traditional subjects and ever simplified churn-based education (the problem(s) that drove Digital 2020)

  2. Reinforcement of tradition through NCEA “changes” conflicts with the modern education higher order and or experiential learning paradigms; aka Digital 2020.

  3. There has been no investment to support school’s into better technologies for Digital 2020.

  4. Many schools operate (are forced to) race-to-bottom, Playway or Gimmick technology choices. Many NZ classrooms have no technology (let alone being equipped to adopt modern or industry-ready packages to deliver on Digital 2020 goals).

  5. Paper based registers and assessment data, often driver school operations. IOT, AI, Data analytics (that focuses on learner experience), are not funded and therefore; seldom considered (in curricula and or to erode wastage; and or improve learner experience).

  6. Given these factors, many in the sector are unclear if the investment in Digital 2020 Curricula has or is being written off or

  7. Will the “new” NCEA changes will be reversed or rethought if Digital 2020 is a priority.

  8. The same systemic issues driving controversial shake ups in Tertiary may be exasperated with further declining course relevance or participation as secondary lurches back to traditional-subject model.

  9. The Education Grant funding and Principal pay models drive basic churb-education and or roll-development strategy behaviour.

  10. Oddly, given the importance to New Zealand of transforming education through digital 2020 or NCEA, the recent teacher’s pay and or Principal “agreements” have not included any performance incentives to support any institutional shifts; in effect, in both pay-cases, the status quo has been rewarded

Summarily, the system exists in a state of confusion or flux. Do schools continue to run “trans-actional” education which the system is funded upon (aka the “new” NCEA changes)?

and or

Do schools run the risk of asking educators to work more, transforming fundamentally (in parallel), migrate to and or implement a Digital 2020-esque paradigm, which is at odds with the former and may compromise the roll-based reward incentives of Principals/leaders?

Suffice to say, such tensions, when viewed at a curriculum level, can and do cause a complete paralysis. Status quo, by and large, dominates. Accordingly, to succeed, with the sheer degree of such a transformation required for Digital 2020 (if the conflicting NCEA changes are paused), significant support in complex strategy change, technology-expertise, training and investment, on the front line, is required.

However, the important consideration made to New Zealand’s two life-line sectors, dairy and tourism, struggling under global challenges and local taxation pressure. The onus and counter-anticipatory approach to mitigate risk with opportunity, appears to be on transforming education in order to develop a broad base of talent able and equipped to create and export new innovation.


Even “with NCEA changes”, there are solution’s, however, are available, yet not so obvious and require significant transformation. It starts with school strategy and then, Digital strategy and incentivising' transformative leaders to bring about multi-layered change.

Whereas the quality of roll-development marketing “last years results”, for schools,

determined the success or survival of schools (aligned to IR 1.0), this no longer holds true in an IR 4.0 era.

The quality Digital strategy are the new enabler of and for new forms of school strategy and identity. The core issues that have been presented in this post are and have then become the means within which savvy schools will renew, differentiate and potentially displace once dominant “traditional” powerhouse schools.

Presenting maturity development in 5 components, Digital strategy (not digital substitution) enables schools to shift from “Churn” based survivalists, through “roll-development”, both offering only degenerative forms of outcome (societally), through to regenerative plays in the form of Pathway, Real-world learning and connected-ecosystem strategy. With this, organising School and Digital strategy in this way, creates a choice between digital substitution and transformation; and the types of technology choices schools make.

This includes incentivising new-paradigm institutions, leaders and educators to embed IOT, AI and sophisticated technologies, as examples, to automate and strip out huge-costs for attendance registers, post-learning assessment and improve asset utilisation; learner experience and pedagogy transformation through Digital. This brings to life advances in pedagogy (enabled by digital strategy), create a need for funding top-game Hybrid and or cloud technologies, enabling insight driven and highly measurable project-learning models (in contrast to the loose and problematic “self-responsible” “learning substitution) within which to prove, adapt and mix to consider 1:1 new-curriculum programmes; focused on community, regional and or individual learning choices.

This cannot, without difficulty, accomplished in a traditional model nor with NCEA on it’s own, even in a quality project model. The recent NCEA changes, in contrast to the purpose and potential of Digital 2020, have reduced choice, which reduces the ability to design 1:1 learning or modern cross-curricula programmes to address NZ’s talent crisis.

However - NZQA provide an incredible range of qualifications through NZ Certificate which can be used to give credibility to NCEA through new formats of project, infused, immersive and real-world learning. Embedding industry-certification into the project, then adds a new dimension; this enables schools to maintain the NCEA changes as well as driving additional competency development, for real outputs, with international standards to support; highly engaging cross-curricula, vocational and or immersive learning.

As well as attracting learners to a world of choice beyond that of streaming a-few-to-o University, this means more learners, who may or may not appreciate the limitations of traditional subjects and or a return to “exams” (whether online or paper), can “hit the ground running” with proven experience, a suite of differentiating qualifications and ability to articulate their case. This mix means they can enter different and an expanded range of, direct to market and or Tertiary choices.

This enables schools to transform, develop and change strategy from churn, roll development, towards pathway development and real-world learning. Integral to this, as the technologies (race to the top) enable the front line, this justifies education investment as schools can generate industry relevant and or revenue generating outputs.

This form of Digital strategy means schools can differentiate or align with like-minded peers in adoption of shared visions leveraging shared, race-to-top, digital technologies and new consumption models $. As a result, new digital strategy can be developed with pace, affordability and agility. In doing so, schools in this IR 4.0 era use this model to generate outputs for community and professional betterment.

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