On Tuesday, TV One screened a Nigel Latta programme where the psychologist went back to school to figure out if and why our education system is in trouble and whether kids are learning everything they need to, through National Standards and NCEA.

Like many who went through school in the School Cert/Bursary system, I still wonder how effective NCEA really is, no matter how hard my husband (who teaches at Tauranga Girls' College) has tried to convince me.

At the end of Latta's school visits, his take seemed to be that schools are teaching skills that are more relevant to real life, and strategies that are more easily applied, than when the focus was on reading, writing and maths.

I don't remember being taught how to turn the items we created in design class into viable business opportunities, which is something the Bay of Plenty does well, through the Young Innovator Awards (YIA).


The annual awards, which took place at Baypark last night, are teaching our students to take their great ideas and push them further than my generation ever did. The finalists in the Priority One-organised event astounded me (their projects were on display in Bayfair last week). From a multi-box with rotating cubes to accommodate different shaped plugs, to a horizontally-rotating washing line designed for wheelchair-users, these talented kids are designing solutions to real-world problems.

It's not just their ideas that are impressive though. The entries for YIA require a great deal of work, including what products are already out there, research that backs their idea, as well as packaging design, materials, sustainability, market positioning and branding. This is the kind of stuff my generation went to university or work to learn.

The supreme winner last night was a trio of Year 9 and 10 Otumoetai College students. Hayden Christie, Lachlan Farron and Frano Gabric designed a phone app that uses the camera to evaluate the sea's movement patterns and identify the signs of a rip. As cliche as it sounds, our teachers really are developing the problem-solvers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. And if last night's finalists are anything to go by, they're doing a good job of it.