The price of iron Ore dropped today. Apparently it’s dropping faster than, well an ingot of pig iron. This, apparently will mean we lose billions in tax receipts. Probably a heap of jobs. Jobs always seem to go. Iron Ore drops, jobs under threat! Greece Defaults, Jobs under threat. Collingwood wins a grand final, jobs under threat!
Australia is, apparently a lucky country, after all, we’ve golden soil and wealth for toil, our home is girt by sea and our lands abound in nature’s gifts.
Of course the phrase ‘The Lucky Country’, something we say with pride, wasn’t actually meant to be a compliment to our nation. Donald Horne, who coined the phrase in his book, The Lucky Country used it as a criticism. His critique was that Australia’s rise to power and wealth were as much a factor of luck (resources, weather etc) than it was good management, or a resourceful people.
And now, here we are. Worried about the price of Iron, Uranium. Global Climate change killing our agriculture. Or the barrier reef, a major tourism draw.
Relying on commodity exports is not robust strategy. Not when you don’t control those commodities. Even if we did control those commodities world-wide, there is still a large risk from substitutes, or changes in market needs.
As a country we should create a robust economy (and a robust society in general). Until we are robust, as a system, then we will always be vulnerable to external factors that influence us. Our system is strongly influenced by exogenous factors. No open system is immune from external influences.(by definition, if a system is open, there are exogenous factors that will influence it!)
There a lot of things we could do to be robust. One of them is to expand our markets. I don’t know what markets we should expand into…I’m not an economist! But we should be robust and flexible in a manner that allows us to capture new opportunities, and preferably create and lead new opportunities.
To do that we need to be a smart country, which is certainly a cliche, but one that is easy to accept. Why be smart? Not so we can make smart products and services, although that’s a good reason in itself. But so that we have a scoiety of people who are informed and able to respond to changes in the world, and quickly able to absorb and respond to new circumstances.
A smart society means education and training, and ensuring that people can employ that education and training. More than that…it means education people to love education, to love the process of learning.
There is nothing new in this, various political parties have expounded on this for some time. But there does no seem to be a strong and actionable policy to do something about it. Sure, education is one of our major exports – the fourth largest! That’s great,it gives greater diversity to our economy.
But like mining, exporting education may not be a strong ongoing proposition. Eventually systems will reach an equilibrium. Other countries standard of education will go up. As we commoditise our education, its standard will probably go down. We should keep marketing education as an export. But we need to worry about our internal education needs, if for no other reason than to continue the export of education.
I strongly believe that we need to focus on the Science, Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects to make sure we are flexible and able to lead in new fields. It’s from these skills that new technologies and systems will be developed.
I notice in primary schools at the moment, kids are taught ICT. It seems to mainly revolve around word and Powerpoint. Lets forget the issue that it forces kids into using products from a particular vendor. Why aren’t they actually learning the fundamentals of computer technology? Programming? electronics?
There are some really great resources for teaching kids basic programming and electronics (looking at you Raspberry Pi, and you Arduino!) I can see an argument that teaching office products allows students to use these products in other areas of the curriculum (like writing up projects). But one of the areas I struggled with at school was understanding the relevance of maths and physics. Sure, I needed to count my change when shopping…but what was algebra even for?
Grabbing kids interest in areas like programming and the building of basic electronics systems would help them understand the need for physics and maths.
You think kids won’t be interested? Just watch the organic learning that goes on in minecraft (that’s a whole other topic…the use of games for learning, but not this post). Give some kids a programming itch, and they’ll be asking to learn maths and physics (or more importantly, learning it without realising it!)
I’m not arguing here that there isn’t a need for soft skills, and certainly the ability to communicate properly, give a presentation or write a brief are important. But these skills can be acquired at a range of ages and from a range of sources. For most people, learning and appreciating the STEM subjects is a one shot proposition!
Meanwhile…lets keep teaching them Power Point and MS Word. That’s a useful skill…until a new release changes the user interface…