Sue Suckling shocked many with a rousing, inspirational and surprising talk about the future of education at Singularity U conference. This blog will flesh out some of the main points and take away messages, hopefully for more than the satisfaction of this writer. The future is certainly something I enjoy theorising about, and this flows nicely from my other blog on the ‘Five Ways Digital Money Will Impact the Future’.

First, what on earth is Singularity U? I’m glad you asked. If you didn’t just click the link, Singularity U was founded in the notorious Silicon Valley and encompasses a think-tank, a business incubator and a facilitator of conferences unpacking a series of ‘exponential technologies’ and scientific progression. Fairly broad scale. The most recent conference was held in Horncastle Arena, Christchurch over three days, and I had the honour to attend.

Back to Sue. A talk on the future of technology doesn’t - at first - seem to be anything groundbreaking or particularly noteworthy. Anyone can theorise about a future of 100% interactive classrooms and children that learn at 500x the rate we currently do. An intriguing aspect about Sue is that she is the current Board Chairperson of NZQA. She openly lamented about the fact that, as she spoke, students were sitting NCEA exams (that NZQA administer) that were restricting them from information and sources they are virtually guaranteed to have in their lives and careers. Sue went on to declare a major goal she holds for NZ education:

To affect a billion lives in 10 years.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to discover that is an order of magnitude more than the students we have currently studying in New Zealand, and is an example of dreams toward an education system that helps solve major issues in our world; namely some of the ones detailed by the UN:

But how can this be achieved? “Digital disruption” is Sue’s response. Here are the five things she believes are driving us toward an age where the digital world helps us make the best of education and our physical world.

The future of jobs

Are we styling our education so that young Kiwi can participate in sweeping changes that will affect the whole world? Early estimates indicate that in the next two decades, up to 47% of jobs we currently do could be at risk of automation. True, flexible, 21st Century skills consist of foundational literacies, refined character qualities, and the ability to research with increasingly vast sources of information available.

Borderless education

With a sharp rise in online learning, and ‘nanodegrees’ that can be taken in highly relevant fields, more and more people are opting for ‘MOOCs’ - Massive Open Online Courses. This raises a valid question: is it really still a necessity to obtain a formal 3-7 year degree to apply for competitive jobs?

Digital Natives

The up and coming generation (especially under 13) have really never known anything but a digital world. To them this means constant connection to people/information, customisation, strong preference for things with great design/fun and access not ownership of devices and digital means. Would this demographic be suited at all to traditional education and examination?


Many of the online learning institutions mentioned previously are delivering content absolutely free. This is drastically reducing costs all over the world, while still offering a world class ‘lesson’. Is education a basic human right that should be free - and the best teaching accessible to all?

Power to the Individual

Traditionally, curriculum content and setting were the domains of learning institutions. By empowering individuals with access to relevant and highly skilled teaching, it naturally follows that the role of institutions becomes more and more of an accessory and a facilitator of learning - increasing the autonomy of the individual.

These factors all combine to send a clear message: education must embrace the latest research and latest practices. I’m heartened this message has penetrated to the highest levels of NZQA.

Insights from Cam Richardson; Future futurist and Banqer team member