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Preparing our children for the 21st century

Duration: 02:11

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Secretary for Education, Karen Sewell, explains the importance of building an education system that helps students learn how to learn and to manage the demands of a profoundly different world. ULearn Conference, Christchurch. 2008.


In New Zealand we are looking forward and building an education system for the 21st century that will secure our place in the global knowledge society of the future. Because the 20th century system that worked well for most of us will not prepare our children for that future. Whether we acknowledge it or not we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve problems that we don’t know are problems yet.

Knowledge is expanding at a breathtaking pace. It is estimated that in the four years from 1999 to 2002, the amount of new information produced approximately equalled the amount produced in the entire history of the world up to that time. As a consequence effective education and learning can no longer be focused just on the transmission on pieces of information that once memorised constitute a stable storehouse of knowledge.

Education must help students learn how to learn in powerful ways so they can manage the demands of changing information, technology, work and social conditions. But in changing the system we have to realise how profoundly different our children’s lives will be. The system has to be flexible enough to respond to them rather than forcing them to fit the system. 

However some things will still be the same. Our future still depends on our being able to bring up in our homes and school children who are full of wit, curiosity, knowledge, and compassion. They need to live and learn in an environment that is caring, challenging but safe. Where their diversity is respected and where they can learn to care about and stand up for what is good in our society and recognise and change what is wrong.

Updated on: 24 Jun 2009