Learning in a virtual world delivers safer drivers

Issue: Volume 102, Number 10

Posted: 3 August 2023
Reference #: 1HAb6v

Waimate High School’s rural South Canterbury location means learning to drive can be more difficult for students. But virtual reality technology CoDriVR is helping students gain vital driving experience without even leaving the school grounds. The project is an example of how EdTech can help transform teaching and learning.

Learning in a virtual world

Virtual reality technology is helping to bridge barriers and create safer young drivers by enabling students at Waimate HIgh School to gain practical driving experience without having to leave the school grounds.  

A small school of about 270 students from Years 7 to 13, Waimate’s rural location makes travelling to sports, arts or other extracurricular events more challenging.  

Ngakau, a student at the school, knows just how difficult this can be.  

“In my family there’s five kids that love playing rugby so trying to make travel work is a real issue for my parents,” he says.  

It also means that gaining driving experience, especially on busy roads, requires travel.  

“In Waimate you don’t have a driving school or anything like that,” says Georgia, another student at the school.  

“If you want to, you have to pay for them to come down. I think it [driving experience] is super important for us – especially in a small town where there’s not that much traffic.”  

The school now has virtual reality driving simulator CoDriVR installed in its library, enabling students to gain valuable driving time which will help when it’s time to get their licence.  

Rhys Gardner, CEO of EdTech startup CoDriVR, says the technology breaks down barriers.  

“The biggest barrier to learning to drive is that the only way to learn to drive is to drive. You’ve actually got to get behind the wheel of a vehicle of some sort, so virtual reality and simulation is one of the most realistic tools,” he says.  

VR is transformational  

CoDriVR is a virtual reality driving simulation programme. It gives users experience driving on New Zealand roads without actually being in a car.  

It is one of many EdTech NZ startups offering innovative technology which is transforming teaching and learning.  

Kellie Tagiaia, deputy principal of Waimate High School, says being able to access CoDriVR at the school has been “really positive” for students.  

“Technology in schools is like technology around the world, it’s forever changing, it’s never constant,” she says.  

“They’ve been able to use it to learn practical skills that they can take into the real world to help them develop and grow their skills around driving. And to work towards their driver’s licensing.”  

Claire Paterson, director of CoDriVR, says the driving simulator helps students apply what they’ve learned in the New Zealand Road Code, before they’re allowed on the road.  

“We’ve had feedback from users of the simulator where they’ve been learning the road code and then they come in on the simulator and what they’ve learned actually makes sense.”  

Georgia says using the virtual reality technology means she is able to see what driving in traffic would be like without having to drive to Timaru or Oamuru to get the same experience.  

“I feel like CoDriVR helped me a lot because I was quite nervous when I went to start driving, so it calmed me down and made it a lot easier for me.”  

Ngakau, who is working towards gaining his restricted licence, says he has been able to put what he’s learned through CoDriVR into action on the roads.   

“CoDriVR emphasises checking your mirrors and blind spots which really helped when I was driving around town with Mum because she noticed I was checking my mirrors a lot and making sure I was all clear to pull out safely.”

Ngakau, student at Waimate High School, is using the virtual reality driving simulator in parallel with on-road practice to build confidence and knowledge.

Ngakau, student at Waimate High School, is using the virtual reality driving simulator in parallel with on-road practice to build confidence and knowledge.


The power of EdTech 

CoDriVR is an example of the wider impact EdTech can have in society. Rhys says the simulator is a logical place to solve issues around both road safety and access.   

Data from the Ministry of Transport shows in 2021 there were 74 fatal crashes, 538 serious injury crashes, and 2,892 minor injury crashes involving young drivers aged 15 to 24.  

“We’ve got a social cost of youth road accidents in the billions. Anything we can do to reduce that has significant outcomes for the community and wider populations,” says Rhys.  

Meanwhile, a 2016 report sponsored by ACC and the New Zealand Transport Agency showed that aside from the safety issues around young drivers, those aged 18 to 24 who didn’t have a licence were more likely to be unemployed and end up in the court system.    

The report showed 70 percent of jobs required a licence and just nine percent of young people aged 18 to 24 who received a benefit held a full licence.   

“Only five percent of students are leaving school with a full licence,” says Claire. “It [CoDriVR] gives a lot of young people the opportunity to practise and creates motivation to get out there and get on the road – safely.”  

Georgia says not everyone has the same access to technology so having CoDriVR at school meant it was convenient to use.  

“I definitely think CoDriVR would be really helpful for all students in New Zealand; teenagers who are learning to drive especially and who are on their learners.”  

“This is an important equity issue too,” says Claire, “It’s unrealistic to think all families will be able to even afford driving lessons for their kids. On the back of an envelope, if you estimate 40 hours of lessons at say $80 an hour – that’s $3,200. 

“So, what happens to those who don’t have access to that kind of money or a vehicle? Offering VR training is a social leveller – great safety training for all our young people learning to drive which is an important life skill, no matter what their family situation may be.”

CoDriVR is a virtual reality driving simulation programme that gives users experience driving on New Zealand roads without actually being in a car.

CoDriVR is a virtual reality driving simulation programme that gives users experience driving on New Zealand roads without actually being in a car.


Inspiring the next generation of innovators  

Kellie says not only is virtual reality technology helping students gain driving experience, it is also opening their eyes to the power of technology.  

“It’s starting to show them in the real world what technology can look like, what it can be used for; and actually, if they’re interested in that pathway, they can see how what they do here at school – whether it’s coding, gaming, programming – how they can contribute to any sort of technology space as a real-world future ambition.”  

Rhys says the future is pretty exciting for youth.  

“Especially through the use of virtual reality technology and where you can live in someone else’s shoes, it’s really going to shift the perspective of your own life and the ability to both relate to others and connect with people around the world.” 

Watch the video story(external link) showing how learning in a virtual world is making ākonga safer drivers.

Transformed learning, teaching, assessment and research  

Learning, teaching, assessment, and research can be transformed by digital and data to lift wellbeing, maximise capability and improve learning outcomes, and at all levels, it can be enhanced by appropriate best use of digital and data approaches.   

Education agencies are working to ensure education includes the skills learners need to thrive in the digital world. This includes our approaches to safety and wellbeing, curriculum, assessment and research and building the capability of educators. There is a rich and evolving digital strand to all these areas of work. 

Kellie Tagiaia, deputy principal of Waimate High School.

Kellie Tagiaia, deputy principal of Waimate High School.

Life skills 

The inclusion of driver education in local curricula is at the discretion of individual schools based on the priorities of their school communities as it is not part of the national curriculum.  

The Ministry of Education is involved in the cross-agency Driver Licence Improvement Programme (DLIP) led by Waka Kotahi and the Ministry of Social Development and is supporting partner agencies to reach school students who need driver licence support.   

Life skills are an important component of the education system envisaged in the National Education and Learning Priorities. These skills sit within compulsory learning areas of The New Zealand Curriculum, such as social science, although schools do currently have flexibility as to how life skills such as civics, wellbeing | hauora and financial literacy are delivered through their local curriculum.  

The Ministry tools to support the teaching and learning of life skills for school leavers include:  


Driving in the virtual reality simulator gives students a very life-like experience of being on the road.

Driving in the virtual reality simulator gives students a very life-like experience of being on the road.


Transforming educational experience, digital innovation, and economic outcomes

CoDriVR is an example of EdTech transforming teaching and learning and opening the door to new career opportunities. Alison Mackie, executive director of EdTech NZ explains more about the growing sector in Aotearoa.   

In 2020 $173.6 million was spent on education software – this is projected to reach $319.6 million by 2025. Of the current EdTechs in New Zealand, 65 percent were established in the last 10 years and about six percent earn $20 million in revenue each year.  

There are many benefits of EdTech. It allows for: personalised instruction directed at individual learners; the ability to cater to students where a traditional model doesn’t fit; and – as highlighted in the case of Waimate High School and CoDriVR – the possibility to deal with situations like those where face-to-face learning is not available, or where there are equity and access issues.   

The current EdTech ecosystem in Aotearoa thrives on innovation and is home to a multitude of world-class products and services. Over 60 businesses join forces under the industry organisation, EdTech NZ, to help foster a vibrant community dedicated to pioneering education technology.  

Cutting-edge technologies such as generative artificial intelligence and virtual reality are at the forefront of this innovation, making digital literacy an essential facet of active 21st-century citizenship.   

Companies like Kai's Education and VR Voom are transforming education, combining coding, augmented reality, and virtual reality to create immersive and engaging learning environments. Kai's Education has developed AR VR adventure mats with 3D virtual layers, allowing students to code and immerse themselves in 3D worlds, whereas VR Voom focuses on providing virtual reality experiences that span entertainment, adventure, and education.  

Geo A.R. Games and ARA Journeys are also prominent figures, with the former pioneering Geospatial Augmented Reality to merge outdoor activities with mobile gaming, and the latter employing AR, VR, mixed realities, and AI to breathe life into history through gamified storytelling platforms.  

The gaming industry, already contributing over $400 million to the economy in 2022, is poised for further growth and also serves as a catalyst for our EdTech sector.  

The synergy between gaming and education sectors paves the way for enhanced learning experiences, increased student engagement, and improved retention rates. We anticipate a surge of talent and skills that could be channelled toward the EdTech sector, leading to wider adoption of gamified learning experiences. This, in turn, is set to ignite the curiosity of our young learners, fostering their engagement, and uplifting their educational journeys. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:50 pm, 3 August 2023

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