Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rotorua aims to become NZ's 'e-learning' capital

File photo / Glenn Taylor
File photo / Glenn Taylor

Rotorua has embarked on a bold plan to equip all of its pupils with personal learning devices - connecting all of them to the internet and creating a New Zealand-first "e-learning community".

The project, which aims to lift engagement and achievement in education and ensure all students have the same learning opportunities, was launched today and follows on from a similar scheme in Auckland.

Part of the Excel Rotorua education initiative, the project equipped pupils with personal learning devices to ensure they were constantly connected.

Educators from secondary schools, primary schools and early childhood centres have been asked to commit to the project, part of the Excel Rotorua education initiative and expected to become a blueprint for other communities to follow.

Lorraine Taylor, co-president of the Rotorua Principals Association and principal of Lynmore School, said conversations around changing teaching methods for the 21st century had begun 16 years ago.

"There have been some changes but not the huge shifts we wanted to see," she said.

"Most schools are still trying to establish modern teaching environments with largely 20th century tools plus a few 21st century pieces of technology, mostly shared across 30 children in a class."

Rotorua needed a district-wide community approach to propel the city's teachers, children and communities into the modern world, she said.

"We need to enable children to learn new things in new ways, create new partnerships and find a common and continuous way of learning, so transition between institutions is smoother and personalises the learning for our students, resulting in better outcomes."

Rotorua Boys' High School principal Chris Grinter said the task was too big for schools to undertake individually, but there was now an opportunity to work together to create "anywhere, anytime learning" for all the district's students.

"Research shows that where these types of models exist, student achievement increases significantly."

Another supporter of the project, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ruamata Principal, Cathy Dewes, said e-learning would be attractive to students, most of whom are already "techno savvy"and respond to and engage well with any e-learning opportunity.

"Wider access to e-learning is an inviting opportunity and the challenge for kura will be to enhance students' learning through this initiative while at the same time maintaining the focus on Maori language revitalisation."

Ms Dewes said discounts on equipment purchased for e-learning would be made possible through having a Rotorua-wide initiative, providing added benefit for schools and parents.

Excel Rotorua Lead, Leith Comer, said Excel Rotorua would support the e-learning project by helping with connectivity, professional learning and development, data collection and research.

Mr Comer said Auckland's Manaiakalani e-learning project, which involved 11 schools, was a good example of how well the concept could work and improve educational achievement.

There, families received support to purchase children's e-learning devices, there were protocols for e-safety, care and management and families were engaged in overseeing and participating in their children's learning.

The Rotorua initiative would take the concept further by incorporating the entire district, and it would be tailored to local needs and aspirations, he said.

The establishment of a single Rotorua district e-learning community will be followed by creating "communities of places of learning" - groups of schools and ECE centres in various parts of the district working together.

It was envisaged there could be five or six of these clusters.

Later this year, an education trust would be established to continue supporting the initiative and ensure that support is sustained.

Work was underway on options for a network to enable all of Rotorua to get connected to e-learning and there would be engagement with and support for parents, Mr Comer said.

- NZ Herald

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