Digital Technology Leaves Children Lacking Innovation

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Specialist learning labs such as The Mind Lab in New Zealand developed specifically for children are emerging globally to combat decreasing levels of time spent by children in active play-based discovery and 'tinkering' due to the dominance of screen based activity.

In September this year, The Mind Lab opened its high-tech Auckland facility to children from four years of age, with a commitment to providing young students the ability to better understand the world around them.

The Mind Lab’s commitment goes beyond teaching on their shiny new touch screen computers, or having students print out 3D models of their favourite Minecraft character. This facility is all about getting children to think beyond the ‘on’ switch on the devices that consume much of their lives and to focus on what it is that makes things work.

Chief Executive Frances Valintine believes the children in our school system today have only lived in a pre-packaged, responsive, ‘shiny user interface’ world of digital screens. Rather than educating en masse, these devices are consuming free time that earlier generations would have spent tinkering in the shed, building tree houses, riding bikes and creating games. While these activities that filled our out-of-school-time in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were all about fun, they also taught children the principles of science, engineering, creativity and innovation.

"While understanding technology is critical for all children as the foundation for all their future learning, computing must be seen as a tool, rather than as an education device in its own right," says Valintine.

The Mind Lab was developed to provide children the chance to ‘look under the bonnet’ and get ‘hands-on’ across a range of subject areas including science, electronics, robotics, animation and engineering. Students are taught to act and think collaboratively and to see subjects where they intersect with each other rather than focusing on subjects as individual silos of knowledge.

The result from having students roll up their sleeves and getting involved is higher levels of productivity, engaged learners and a wide range of hand-created artifacts from robots to musical instruments, from rockets to short films.

The Mind Lab is New Zealand’s first response to the global demand for science and technology education that contextualises and better prepares children for the 21st century they live in.

"It is all very well teaching children to recite the periodic table, but until they see and experience how fascinating science can be, and the world of possibility it opens in today’s world, children will increasingly choose subjects they perceive to be easier," claims Valintine.

"One of the biggest challenges New Zealand has is our severe talent shortage, especially in the areas of science innovation and technology. As a community we understand and appreciate the value of English and Mathematics, however most parents are still grappling to recognise that Science no longer reflects the careers we associated it with a decade ago. In 2013, science underpins every industry from medicine and architecture to mechanics and sports."

The Mind Lab teaches school groups during the day and after hours and over the school holidays they hold workshops for children and adults across a wide range of areas.

"While dedicated education labs are a new concept in New Zealand, the need for specialist labs are widely accepted throughout the world," says Valintine.

"Competition for high paying jobs is now on a global scale as the world’s population is increasingly becoming educated and knowledgeable. The developing world is focused on science and the opportunities it provides for future career success. Unfortunately, here in New Zealand we are debating whether science should become optional for Year 11 students because of the perceived difficulty of passing science exams," reports Chris Clay, The Mind Lab’s Education Director.

Valintine comments, "Educators around the world are discussing the misconception that our children are somehow ‘digitally smart’ because of their high consumption of digital technology and broad use of technology devices. However the reality is most parents have far better understanding of computers because they grew up having to ‘figure things out’ as devices were far less intuitive. Ask the average twelve year old how to load a computer operating system or set up an Internet connection and they will look to an adult for help."

Frances Valintine
Chief Executive
The Mind Lab
69 Carlton Gore Road

Frances Valintine

Frances Valintine has spent the past 15 years immersed in the world of digital technologies and education. Prior to establishing The Mind Lab, Frances was the Chief Executive of Media Design School, where she was instrumental in developing specialist under-graduate qualifications in game development, animation, digital media and design in conjunction with the New Zealand hi-tech and creative industry.

Frances is a passionate educator and she actively contributes to many education and industry boards including the New Zealand Game Developers Board, and Education NZ.

Chris Clay

Chris Clay is a self-described advocate for the use of technology to extend the capabilities of both teachers and learners. Chris was named "Microsoft’s Global Innovative Educator" in 2011 ahead of over 200,000 other nominees from around the world.

Over the last three years, he has worked alongside organisations including The Smithsonian Institute on projects to help connect education to the challenges faced by communities both local and global. Chris is the Education Director a.k.a. ‘Chief Academic and Science Boffin’ at The Mind Lab New Zealand’s first education facility dedicated to engaging kids in active learning in technology-infused subjects such as robotics, programming and film-making.

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