For most New Zealanders, study ends when we enter the workforce. The Mind Lab is trying to change that by offering tertiary study without the barriers of time and money.
The value of lifelong learning is undeniable, especially in an age when technological advances are rapidly changing the way we work. But for many people the cost – and time – required to return to education is too high to allow them to leave their careers to undertake further study.
Traditionally, New Zealanders do not continue to partake in formal study once we enter the workforce. As well as financial costs, which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, further education also has social and career implications, such as the need to take time off work and the struggles of trying to juggle study and family.
In response to these barriers, over the last eight years The Mind Lab has awarded more than $10 million in scholarships and allocated a further $550,000 for scholarships in 2022. The tertiary education organisation wants to make study easier for all people to access, not only by offering these scholarships, but by designing courses that fit around full-time work schedules.
“One of the things that has always astounded me is that New Zealand professionals have the lowest professional development rates in the OECD. We haven’t really got a culture of learning as adults,” says chief executive and founder of The Mind Lab, Frances Valintine.
“When you start work, you’re working your way up the ladder but you’re not looking at spending time to reskill and understand the changes that are happening in the marketplace, technological advancements, and changing expectations.”
Founded by Valintine in 2013, The Mind Lab was created to give people the skills to respond to the challenges of the future by introducing them to collaborative digital discovery and problem-solving. The postgraduate programmes are designed to build capabilities to match the requirements of a constantly changing world.
Within our already low rates of ongoing education, Māori, Pasifika and those aged over 60 are further underrepresented. The Mind Lab’s three scholarships – the Tangata Whenua scholarship, Pacific Ako scholarship and Taipakeke scholarship – service these groups, in hopes that some of these inequities can be remedied.
“The skills that I’m learning have impacted me in a hugely meaningful way. The biggest thing for me is reflecting on what we’ve learnt and how we can apply that in the real world. All of the research shows us that leaders are the ones that are constantly learning and improving themselves,” says Lillian Bartlett (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa).
The entrepreneur and mother-of-five currently manages a professional basketball skills development business alongside her husband. After signing up for the Digital Skills for the Workplace micro-credential at the start of the year, Bartlett decided she would apply for further postgraduate study with The Mind Lab, despite not having an undergraduate degree. To her surprise, Bartlett was accepted into the Leading Change for Good programme based on her previous work experience, and was also the recipient of the full-fees Tangata Whenua Scholarship.
“I had a level four qualification but didn’t really have any confidence in myself, which comes from Māori educational trauma. Going into The Mind Lab and having an alternative holistic education and having a support person made me feel like I was going to get through it. I was encouraged and felt empowered,” Bartlett says.
Having gained confidence and skills from her participation in the programme, Bartlett has now signed up for a Bachelor of Applied Management at Otago Polytechnic and is also working with her local council. Bartlett credits The Mind Lab for enabling her with the skills and confidence needed to be a formidable presence in such spaces.
“I wouldn’t be happy to be sitting at those tables if I wasn’t on the course, and knowing that I have the support and that I do have the knowledge and education needed to be successful in my industry,” she says.
The Mind Lab’s initial focus was on equipping teachers with the skills and knowledge needed to remain effective educators, and a number of programme participants are thankful for what they learned prior to the forced shift to digital learning and teaching in online classrooms due to the pandemic.
“If I wanted to keep teaching, I thought I had better keep my knowledge updated, otherwise I’d be behind,” says Mount Albert Grammar School teacher Li Wang.
In 2015 the 66-year-old received a Taipakeke Scholarship which enabled her to participate in The Mind Lab’s Master of Contemporary Education programme. The benefits of the course have been many for Wang, who says the course enabled her to easily adapt her teaching to the needs of digital learners.
“Because this is contemporary education with a focus on collaboration and digital fluency, it’s been so helpful considering the changes that have happened with Covid-19. Not only did I learn the skills I needed and gain the knowledge but also confidence,” Wang says.
The value of lifelong learning is what drives the courses at The Mind Lab, pushing students to evaluate further education’s benefit to their own lives – work and personal. Tania Bailey, a client lead at Spark, considers herself a lifelong learner, and says that drive to learn helps her to keep up with an ever-changing world.
Having spent time considering all study options available to her, Bailey was attracted to The Mind Lab programmes for a number of reasons. The ability for participants to play to their strengths, such as being able to record a video of themselves speaking rather than having to write an essay, appealed to her, as well as the multicultural environment that prioritised te ao Māori learning.
“I’m always learning and I’m always changing who I am. It was about putting myself in a new environment. The Mind Lab was a little bit different, as their courses were rooted in te ao Māori,” Bailey says.
With the help of The Mind Lab’s Pacific Ako scholarship, Bailey was able to upskill without having to worry about the financial impacts that study can often have.
“I don’t think I would have done any more study if I didn’t receive the scholarship. If I didn’t have the scholarship, it would have been a huge burden on me financially.”
Besides being equipped with the required skills, knowledge, and confidence, students acknowledge the assistance and wraparound support they received outside of the classroom. Whether it be building friendships with fellow students or the enthusiasm to continue with further studies, the students all say they’re encouraged to continue fearlessly chasing their dreams.
“I came across the Māori support person for The Mind Lab and she’s been my greatest strength ever since. She’s been a friend, teacher, and confidant. She’s like whānau to me,” says Bartlett.
For Valintine, seeing students overcome barriers – whether financial, social or in their studies – and continue to show up for their education has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her job.
“The most powerful thing you can do for your whānau or your community is to learn, because you bring everyone with you.”