Jan Owen. Image credit: Adam Haddrick for Dumbo Feather
Jan Owen. Image credit: Adam Haddrick for Dumbo Feather

We are delighted to announce that Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), will be our keynote speaker at this year’s awards. The FYA connects young people, governments and business through a range of initiatives designed with and for young people to deliver change across Australia. Together with young people, FYA seeks to influence and shape education and career pathways, transform worldviews and lead communities in innovative ways.
Innovation in education is one of the core values of the Educational Publishing Awards Australia, and so we look forward to welcoming Jan to the awards next month. Here, Jan reflects on how the world looks to young Australians today, and the education requirements of the future.

What are your views on the current Australian education landscape? 

“What we don’t have in our curriculum is enterprising skills embedded across every single lens of learning.”

The FYA produces a number of reports each year on how young people are faring in Australia, both in education and as they transition out of education and training into work. Like other countries around the world, Australia is facing unprecedented uncertainty regarding the future of work and significant disruption in education. FYA strongly believes that the current education system is not geared to the future – it is, in the main, still a fairly clunky, 20th century system. There are pockets of innovation, great approaches and incredible determination, but they are certainly not systemic.
One of the things we do know is that every single young person in the world is going to need enterprising skills in the future. Skills and capabilities in creativity, innovation, collaboration, complex problem solving, digital literacy and financial literacy are the fundamentals of an enterprising mindset and capability. In an uncertain world these are also transferrable skills that can be taken into multiple contexts – either working for yourself (which is going to be much more common in the future), and working with and for other people.
What we don’t have in our curriculum are those enterprising skills embedded across every single lens of learning. Our research tells us that with this kind of learning we must go hard and go early. Where we are currently doing some of this work in schools – often around year 10 – it’s already way too late. So there’s a fundamental systemic change that’s going to have to happen.
The other change that we will see is industry becoming much more involved in education because of the mismatch of skills taught in school and university and the skills required in the workplace. Industry has been part of the VET system in Australia for decades, however I believe it is also going to shape education more broadly, which will be disruptive but potentially enormously beneficial.

“We could truly be an innovation nation.”

I see a great deal of reform and disruption around the edges of education that hasn’t yet been mainstreamed. As has always been the case, students who have access to this innovation will reap the benefits, and others will miss out because of their geography or postcode. This lack of systemic responses always leads to inequality. In Australia, with only 23 million people, we can’t afford for some people to miss out if we don’t want to be left behind, and we really have no excuse with such a relatively small population! We could truly be an innovation nation, not least because we have the capacity to test ideas and get them quickly to market.
How is FYA involved in all this?
We are all about equipping and inspiring young people with the skills and networks to shape the future, in their communities, schools and the world. One example of our work in promoting enterprise skills is our ‘$20 Boss’ enterprise challenge in partnership with NAB. In Term 3 this year, over 10,000 students across the country will undertake the challenge, with a target of 100,000 in the next five years. We have produced a set of resources to help teachers assist young people to establish an enterprise, starting with a $20 ‘loan’ from the $20 Boss bank. After a month, they must pay back the loan, with interest, to our evergreen bank. The pilot in Victoria last year was hugely successful – we discovered that not only did almost all the young people pay the loan back (a high return for any bank!), 47% of the students said they’d now consider entrepreneurship or small business ownership as a career or pathway, something they had never considered before. At the end of the year we will hold national awards to showcase the best student ideas and their schools. $20 sounds like a small amount but there have been plenty of great ideas – last year two 14-year old girls in the pilot set up a t-shirt recycling enterprise which is now a fully operating venture.
Tell us a bit more about how FYA operates.
We have three major strategies:

  1. We work with young people in schools. For example, the Adappt project, through which we partnered with Samsung to help students create apps for social good.
  2. We work with young people to create social ventures or businesses that fulfill a need in the community. We have the largest stable of young social entrepreneurs in Australia – around 350 young people aged from 15 up to 29 years, running ventures and campaigns that are doing everything from addressing climate change and sustainability to community life and everything in between. These young people are taking on big social issues and innovating around them using technology as short cuts. The FYA has real form in backing young people, connecting them and giving them the skills once they leave school to be in that space.
  3. We help young people who have innovative ideas for social change to make their ideas a reality and take them to the next level, helping connect them with government, business and community to create change. For example, Chris Raine started Hello Sunday Morning through his own experience of binge drinking at university – he stopped drinking for three months and reclaimed his ‘Sunday mornings’. He went on to build a team and created an online community to change Australia’s relationship with alcohol and make people think differently, not by abstaining completely, but by taking a break. He now has 50,000 users in Australia and the project is going global. Young people like Chris in this country – and around the world – have the solutions, but they need backing, support and networks to make their innovations happen, and that’s where FYA comes in.

How do you think young people are faring in today’s globally connected world?
Research tells us that Generation Z, those under 21, is set to be the most tolerant demographic of any generation. Their catch-cry is ‘equality’, and they genuinely believe that differences in religion, race and opinion adds value. Their mindset is global and wide. Testing shows they have the capacity to process information and complex problems much faster than any other generation – they may be smarter! They are true digital natives who embrace multi platforms, robotics and future technologies. The difficulties they are going to face are employment, sustainability, climate change and inequality.
I see two scenarios for this generation:

  1. A hyper competitive world, with absolutely no job security, and the previously generations’ promise of housing and financial security not accessible. A highly casualised workforce means limited access to mortgages or savings.
  2. Young people using their hypersmart skills to innovate in a world that thrives on a very different system of economy, tax, career, etc. They have the opportunity to have a portfolio career and an engaging, fulfilling lifestyle.

These scenarios are painted as starkly different choices but our job as educators, politicians and parents is to ensure that young people are equipped to step into the best scenario and contribute beyond just providing for themselves.
How do you think young people can shape education and its delivery?
Young people are already shaping their education – in the last decade, they have started to take themselves into all kinds of realms of learning beyond the classroom. They’ve voted with their feet – they seek out the resources and the people they need. Again this favours the people who have the support and resources to do this. If students are exposed to programmes like $20 Boss through parents or school as a legitimate form of learning in the world, they not only embrace it, they run at it.

“I have a strong belief that the teacher of the future is an expert content curator and a facilitator of learning, time travelling and epic meaning.”

Digital literacy is another area where students are already disrupting their own education – the challenge for us is how to ensure these disruptions equip students for the future and are not fragmented pilots and disconnected ‘bolt ons’ which are endemic in Australia. We have to ensure equity. The Innovation Unit in the UK purposefully structures innovation interventions in schools – it’s very interesting. Whole-school systems like Charter Schools or Big Picture Schools are trying to tap into future learners, but they’re hard to scale as they don’t have systemic support behind them. Teach For Australia is one of the most innovative disruptions I’ve seen. It’s controversial, but it is now a global movement and has had huge impact. They have achieved outstanding results by placing  graduates with disciplines other than teaching in the classroom.
I have a strong belief the teacher of the future is an expert content curator and a facilitator of learning, time traveling and epic meaning. Young people will craft their own adventure and look for guides along the way. Everything they need to learn is just one thumb swipe away – good curation, beyond sophisticated user profiling analysis, is key. And young people don’t just want online resources – they want to learn with their friends, they still crave face time. They may have a vast menu of content, but they need to apply that to real life experiences and challenges (like $20 Boss), and know how to be with people and learn together. You miss the point if you craft an individual education journey – where are your ideas challenged or extended? Where else do you learn the power of collective effort and action?
On the one hand, incredible opportunities and a brave new future awaits, on the other, our education, and other systems, may not be fast enough to keep up with the external environment and gain the political commitment and will to turbocharge learning into the future. I believe we need a compelling, future focused national investment in young Australians.