Innovative scheme helps kids in low decile schools get up to speed, writes Kirsty Johnston.

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When kids turn up for their first day at the cluster of low-decile schools in Auckland known as Manaiakalani, it's likely they won't be able to count to 10. They won't recognise their names. They won't know colours or shapes, or any of the other basics 5-year-olds are expected to know when they start.


"What that means," says Pat Snedden, chairman of the Manaiakalani Education Trust, "is that in the course of their life at primary, we have to accelerate their learning at 1.5 times the normal rate to have them ready for secondary school."

In many low-decile communities, getting their children up to speed is just too big a challenge. But at Manaiakalani, in Tamaki, the innovative approach to learning has seen not only a dramatic improvement in results, but also a programme so successful it's been funded to go into five other "clusters" nationwide.

The programme funds the schools to teach using digital technology, backed by advanced teaching practice and high parental engagement. This sees families pay off devices for their children, while the kids become self-motivated learners.

So far, NCEA Level 2 success rates have risen from 26 per cent to beyond 70 per cent in three years at Tamaki College. At primary level there have been significant shifts in writing and student engagement levels.

In order to share the good practice, the scheme has been given funding by the Next Foundation, a philanthropic trust which will donate $100 million to education and environment projects in the next 10 years.

Mr Snedden says the "outreach" programmes will make it possible for more than 8500 learners throughout New Zealand to experience what they've learned so far.

He says although the programme isn't the solution to everything, it was clear more needed to be done for poorer students.

"The ministry/school/parent approach doesn't cut it," he said. "If that alone could change things, they would have done it by now."

Next chairman Chris Liddell said he believed philanthropy had a place in education in that it allowed schools to try something different. "The way we look at it is that other than bringing funding to the table, we create the ability to experiment," he said.

"Clearly different approaches are the way. All we are trying to do is invest in people who are innovative."

The scheme begins in five clusters in Hornby in Christchurch, the West Coast of the South Island, Papakura and Mt Roskill in Auckland, and Kaikohe in Northland this year.