The future is STEM

We don’t know what the future holds when it comes to jobs. But our best guess to future proof Pacific kids into finding high paying jobs would be STEM- which means Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Aren’t we all about culture,  our talents being singing and dancing, along with rugby and other sports? True, but few of us are going to be the next Stan Walker or a Sonny Bill Williams. We only have to look back to the origins of Pacific people as seafarers to realise that STEM has always been part of our DNA- without it we wouldn’t have been able to settle these remote Pacific Islands and become the people we are. Once we grasp this insight we can then move forward and embrace STEM as the path to a prosperous future that we want for our children.

Long ago our ancestors were island hopping in their vakas until they arrived in the Pacific- light years ahead of any European explorers. How did our ancestors do it? They navigated by the stars (astronomy), studied the waves for patterns (wave theory), observed the flight of birds or the location of whales (biology), estimated the amount of provisions for the trip (maths) and they also brought animals and plants for the new worlds (agriculture/farming)- not to mention the building of their boats (engineering and technology). Somehow we lost all this and instead wanted to be the next Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, on to our next swashbuckling adventure- so we took Anthropology 101 or Archaeology at Uni.  All is not lost though, the trick here is for a Humanities or Arts major to add a couple of maths or stats papers to their degree which will make them more marketable in landing a job.

Fast-forward to the present, and we find the NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) rate for Pacific youth is nearly double that of Pakeha youth. The NEETS rate can be considered a proxy for youth unemployment. On nearly every metric, whether its  low wages, high unemployment, poor housing, poor health, high smoking rates etc – Pacific people generally don’t fare well compared to their European counterparts. The one area were they can become more marketable is in education, but it must be directed toward STEM- and reclaim the mana that our seafaring ancestors once had.

One area of STEM that has good job prospects is coding which used to be called computer programming. All the social media platforms like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn etc all use algorithms which are created through coding. If you can cook then you can code. Coding is like writing a recipe. How do you make chop suey or pisupu (fried corn beef )? We have the recipe in our heads it’s just that we’ve never written it down or coded it. One recipe for pisupu would be to chop an onion, open the tin of corn beef, fry the onions in saucepan and then add the corn beef- I’m not sure if we should’ve added some oil as the corn beef can cook in its own fat. Throw in microwaved peas or mixed vegetables, wait until cooked, then serve it up. The recipe or code follows a certain logic and the instructions are executed sequentially in order.  All you need do is learn a (computer) language – most Pacific people are used to speaking two languages so this shouldn’t be too difficult.

I forgot to mention that an algorithm is basically a block of code that will likely have conditional branching e.g. IF this THEN do something ELSE do something different. In the near future, it is possible that Artificial Intelligence (AI) might render human coders redundant as they (the AI) can do the coding themselves. If this happens then it won’t be just coders without work but almost everyone as automation and robotics take over. Then we will need a universal basic income UBI which I can explain in a future blog.

To sum up, we need to encourage our Pacific children to embrace STEM which then can be used to navigate new virtual worlds where they can prosper.

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