Political progress

November 2011

 

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Education Minister ANNE TOLLEY gives an update on the Government’s technological initiatives in New Zealand schools.

 

Around the world many countries are grappling with similar issues to New Zealand when it comes to e-learning – primarily around how to harness the real power of technology to give our young people the best start in life – to equip them to be global, digital, citizens.

Increasingly, evidence supports the fact that access to technology can improve educational and life outcomes for students, particularly those with a history of underachievement or a lack of engagement.

That’s why the Government has committed to giving 97 per cent of schools ultra-fast fibre, enabling speeds of 100 Mbps plus over the next five years.

The remaining three per cent of schools, which are in the most remote locations, will receive a high-speed wireless or satellite connection. No schools will miss out.

The roll-out of ultra-fast broadband-enabling fibre to schools is progressing well and will see nearly 100,000 students at 221 schools around the country connected by July of next year.

In making this commitment, our aim is to make the New Zealand education system one of the most connected in the world.

There are, however, many challenges to overcome. We are currently in a tight fiscal environment and New Zealand is not an easy country to cable. Our terrain and climate can be extreme and our population is geographically dispersed.

Last year I visited a very different school – Tiniroto School, which is 70km out of Gisborne. This school in my electorate is about as small, rural and isolated as it gets. It is part of the smallest ICT professional development cluster in New Zealand – and for the 15 children at Tiniroto, technology is a lifeline.

Their principal and the school community were determined that Tiniroto would not be disadvantaged by their isolation – and have made participation in the Ministry of Education’s ICT Professional Learning and Development programme a priority.

Now students use Skype to share their learning and collaborate with their e-buddies at the three other Gisborne schools in the cluster: Waerenga-o-Kuri, Waipaoa Station and Motu School, creating a learning community many times larger than any of these schools could achieve individually.

Students also create e-portfolios of their work, which they can share with their families and whānau.

What’s even more impressive is that all this takes place over an ordinary ADSL broadband connection. Tiniroto School is an example of how, with commitment from school leaders, even the most basic technology can be used to overcome the challenges of distance.

With improved connectivity, schools like Tiniroto can continue to innovate and improve outcomes for all of their students.

Of course access to fibre is of no use without capable teaching professionals who can use this technology in ways that are engaging and relevant for students and can improve students’ progress and achievement.

New technologies can also bring new challenges. To become capable and responsible digital citizens, it is vital that our young people learn how to manage risk appropriately – how to keep ‘cybersafe’, not only at school but also in their everyday lives.

In support of this, I launched the ‘Learn, Guide, Protect’ framework and supporting website. Developed by NetSafe and the Ministry of Education, ‘Learn, Guide, Protect’ promotes a student-centred approach to cybersafety education that aligns with The New Zealand Curriculum.

The supporting website features resources that are being developed by teachers, for teachers, in partnership with NetSafe. Schools can use these resources to develop cybersafety programmes tailored to suit their needs and those of their wider school communities.