Crusader Faletagoa'i has three exercise books. Tyla-Marie Witika has a similar number. Instead of pens and pencils, they type their work on to small laptops linked to their classes' websites, a Google application projected on to the whiteboard from which students read instructions, work where specified, submit assignments to their teacher and post work on their own blogs.
Crusader, 12, and Tyla-Marie, 10, attend Pt England school, a decile 1A school in Glen Innes, a suburb where the average adult income is $19,000.
Traditionally, 98 per cent of the students were in the lowest achieving Maori and Pasifika age group. The school is in the Manaiakalani programme (see below) which formed a trust in 2011 and has helped the school achieve significantly higher results - through e-learning.
Part of the scheme has been to secure netbooks for students, bought by parents who have signed on to paying $3.50 each a week.
"It's really amazing, and cool, when you consider the average adult income," says principal Russell Burt.
"Our parents bought in very quickly. Most don't have computers at home. In a community like ours, people manage fiscal liability by having a prepaid phone. About 70 per cent of our population don't have landlines," says Mr Burt.
The trust, chaired by Pat Snedden, was helped by Equico, a technology funding company, which supplied the netbooks. "
The response from parents has been magnificent," says the former Housing NZ and Auckland DHB chairman.
Internet access was also a problem. Mr Snedden says over 60 per cent of Glen Innes homes are owned by Housing NZ, and he was well placed to suggest putting aerials on Housing NZ properties to provide internet access. "At the same time, Auckland Council helped with an experiment with wireless access on the streetlights. We found this the most effective as it gives broader access," says Mr Snedden.
Students can now complete most of their work at home, school, or anywhere with wireless access.
"What changes is the way you do learning and teaching," says Mr Burt. "We're trying to get rid of two phrases, 'schoolwork' and 'homework'. We just want to talk about learning. So you do it at home, at school, wherever you are, in the park. We're trying to get [wireless access] in the park."
Mr Snedden and Mr Burt acknowledge the move away from traditional learning. As Mr Burt puts it, "Some of the learning happens differently. Each class has a website where they get their instructions from. They create songs, movies. It's very different from where you're working in an exercise book, you do the work, shut your book and no one sees it."
Crusader shows The Aucklander his blog on which he's posted a movie he's made. There's an emphasis on sharing work and learning through feedback.
"The comments help us. They tell us what to work on," says Crusader. "I like all our Google apps that tell us what to do in class. We can go on online thesaurus and dictionaries. We can send stuff to our mates on email and share our online docs with friends and together we make it better."
Mr Burt says students commenting on each other's work has boosted standards. "Writing's been a problem ... It's accentuated in lower decile communities because their expanded language is not always used. Blogging is a wonderful opportunity to grow that because they're getting feedback on their writing."
Teachers use what's known as the Teacher Dashboard from Google, which gives them a bird's-eye view of classroom activities through docs, sites, gmail, Blogger and Picasa.
"It enables the teacher to focus on the direct instructions, then the children to go away into a rich environment and keep working. So we're getting a substantially increased improvement in reading, writing and maths. When people walk around here, they don't think it's a decile one school, because everyone's getting on with their work," says Mr Burt.
"What's happening here is a new construct around state education. There's a wider partnership ... Our parents have become financial partners to the tune of a third, so it's one-third parent, one-third state and one-third philanthropic. It is a way forward."
The Manaiakalani programme began as an EHSAS (Extending High Standards Across Schools) cluster of seven schools in socio-economically depressed areas of Auckland.
Funded by the Ministry of Education, its aim was to improve student learning. The trust was formed so students could have the tools to achieve the programme's goals.Results from 2011 show improvements in students' writing were up to six times above expectations. Pasifika students achieved up to seven times the expectations and Maori students up to eight times the expected shift.
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