Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Low-decile e-learning project a world leader

The trust provides cheap computers and internet for children such as Calvin Smith in low-decile schools in Tamaki/Glen Innes. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The trust provides cheap computers and internet for children such as Calvin Smith in low-decile schools in Tamaki/Glen Innes. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A world-first "e-learning" project which is transforming children's lives in some of Auckland's poorest suburbs is looking for partners to expand throughout the country next year.

Children as young as 5 in nine schools in the Tamaki-Glen Innes area are publishing their work on the internet and attracting feedback from around the world - with extraordinary effects on their motivation.

"It's so affirming," says project manager Dorothy Burt.

Two-thirds of the students are from Pasifika families where often the main language at home is not English. Another quarter are Maori.

They start school two years behind the national average but at Pt England School, the first to use the new technology, they now catch up with the average in reading and maths by Year 5.

Pat Snedden, the chairman of the Manaiakalani trust that manages the project, says it is attracting worldwide attention.

"People from Google say no one in the world is using our tools like you are," he says.

"People from all over the country are interested in replicating this. As the school results come through, we are constantly getting feedback saying we'd be really keen to put this in our area."

The trust has been given $1.2 million from the ASB Community Trust to develop the infrastructure to replicate the project, and aims to have "kit" ready for other areas by the end of this year.

The package is not just about hardware. Mrs Burt and her husband, Pt England principal Russell Burt, stress that the starting point is a completely different style of learning.

Instead of learning passively by listening to a teacher speaking to the whole class, children in the nine Tamaki schools are active participants in a process called "learn, create, share".

"We learn from the internet using online programs such as Maths-Whizz," said Kaycee Hotu, a 10-year-old at Pt England School.

"We each have a Google account to create documents. We share these with our teacher via the teacher dashboard."

Teachers in each classroom work intensively with only three students at a time in rotations of about 15 minutes, spending time with each student about three times a week.

For the rest of the week the students get on with tasks set by the teacher on the class website.

The teacher "dashboard", developed by local software start-up firm Hapara, allows the teachers to monitor all work from their own computers. All students in the cluster from Year 5 upwards have their own personal "netbook" computers - the cheapest possible device that is capable of online access at a cost parents can afford.

Trialling various payment systems has found that in Tamaki, where the average income is just $19,000 a year, the affordable cost is $3.50 a week for four years. At that price, every family has taken up the offer and about 85 per cent pay on time every week.

A wireless network is being built by Fusion Networks to give home internet access to all 2500 pupils living between West Tamaki Rd and the Panmure bridge by the end of this year, provided that a sponsor can be finalised.

A computer leasing company, Equico, lends the trust the initial money to buy the netbooks. The trust then sells them to the parents over the four years, using donated capital to cover the late-payers.

About 30 chief executives of local companies and other private donors have each contributed about $3000 towards the $4.5 million raised by the trust so far - about a third each from the parents' payments for the netbooks, the Government and private donors.

Mr Snedden said: "The commercial world looks at this and says, 'e want to support this.' It's because they understand their future requirements and they want to see it achieved through our education system, and right now they are having to import a lot of this skilled labour."

He says it is unrealistic in the current economic downturn for the Government to pay the full cost of extending the project, which he puts at about $35 million to reach all decile 1 to 3 schools in Auckland.

"We have to think more broadly about the kind of partnerships you need. You have to have not just the Education Ministry, parents and the school. You have to have commerce and philanthropy aligned to that process."

SELF-MOTIVATION

Learn
A teacher assigned Year 8 students to watch Mt Roskill Grammar student Joshua Iosefo's inspirational speech "Brown Brother" on YouTube.

Create
Students wrote reviews of the speech, which were checked by their teacher.

Share
They published their reviews on their online blogs. Joshua's mother, Fetaui Iosefo, came across them and posted a comment saying "how very proud I am of you all for showing great understanding of Joshua Iosefo's 'spoken word'."

ON THE WEB
manaiakalani.org

- NZ Herald

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