The _SOUTHSTART // ODYSSEY high school and tertiary student ‘Startup Academy’ engaged almost 500 school students and their teachers from 16 schools and two universities in a full day of seminars and workshops focused on inspiring thought about the future and how they might play a role in designing it.
The event was designed for students, but many important lessons for adults - including educators, leaders and parents - emerged from the day. These lessons offer insight into how we can help prepare the next generation for a rapidly changing world.
Lesson 1: Age is no barrier to innovation
Across all the Academy sessions, the students showed they are highly predisposed to creativity and critical thought. It was also evident that they’re painfully aware of critical world issues such as climate change. This generation has, of course, grown up with social media and all the world’s knowledge in their pockets! One STEM teacher accompanying the students remarked, “we really need to give the kids more credit - sometimes they know more about things than us!”.
It only took a small amount of stimulus to spur wild and thought-provoking ideas from the students. For example, in a workshop hosted by youth community group Global Shapers, one student questioned the positioning of EVs as the ‘silver bullet solution’ to a carbon-free future of transportation, pointing to ethical concerns around sourcing materials for battery production, such as lithium, from third-world countries.
In a separate session on ‘Perfecting Your Pitch’, hosted by education start-up HEX, the students helped develop a new start-up idea; an app that helps young people moving out of home better manage their finances. One of the HEX team then developed a hypothetical pitch deck for the company while the students learnt the skills required for best-in-class pitching. At the end of the session, one pair of students confidently got up in front of around 100 of their peers and perfectly presented the new company pitch without ever seeing the presentation before!
Lesson 2: A ‘conventional’ career path could be a dead end
Many guest speakers drove home the message, “the jobs of the future aren’t the jobs of today”. We can see evidence of this just by looking at the rapid evolution of future industries across Adelaide in the last decade.
The message from speakers, such as social impact entrepreneur Nat Ware, was to look beyond the ‘conventional’ career path. He warned against being blinded by biases that underpin traditional expectations around what a career path “should” look like - expectations that are usually placed on young people by those they look up to for guidance and advice, such as their parents and teachers.
Across the entire _SOUTHSTART festival, a key message from speakers was that success is a numbers game and failure is a natural part of the journey. It raised questions about whether our education system encourages failure enough.
Lesson 3: We need more innovation in the classroom
So how can we get the next generation ready for a future of rapid change, when they might not even know what they need to prepare for? Discussion from students and teachers at Startup Academy suggested the answer might be in challenging the current approach to learning.
While the students considered what a re-designed future might look like, their teachers started to consider what an education system without such strict timetables and curriculums would look like. Throughout the Academy sessions teachers expressed their desire for more opportunities for off-site learning, and more ways to bring their own passions and strengths into the classroom.
This sentiment was shared by the students, with one noting “...the education system has flaws. Schools give us this knowledge and shove us into the world… we could change that, [and focus on] what we need on a daily basis to be ready for the world."
Lesson 4: You can’t be what you can’t see
The biggest lesson from the _SOUTHSTART Startup Academy was the reminder that while young people have incredible imaginations, they’re still limited by their knowledge about the opportunities available to them. For many, the realm of perceived possibility is limited by what they’ve witnessed in role models. Events like _SOUTHSTART Startup Academy give young people the opportunity to think about their future differently, to interact with new role models.
If we want the next generation to be ready to take up the reins of the innovation industries we’re building today, the responsibility is on us ‘grown-ups’ to show them what’s possible and give them the tools and confidence to chase after their passions.
Australia needs more organisations to continue to give young people the tools and knowledge they need to navigate an innovative future. If we do a good enough job, we might just allow the next generation to build a future even better than we could have imagined. What can you do to inspire change in the next generation?
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