Unique digital learning programme helps produce great results in low decile schools

Auckland's Tamaki College used to have forlorn pass rates in NCEA. The decile one secondary school saw many of its predominantly Maori and Pacific island pupils leave with little brightness predicted in their future.

Note the words "used to".

At the end of 2013, NCEA Level 2 achievement rates for Maori students went from 37.5 per cent in 2012 to 63.8 per cent. Pacific Island pupils also made substantial gains, going from 54.7 per cent pass rates to 75.5 per cent in 2013.

The news was even better in later results - in 2010, 33.9 per cent of Year 12 students at Tamaki College passed Level 2 NCEA-rising to 68.8 per cent last year. In 2010, only 17.8 per cent of Year 13 students achieved Level 3 NCEA - increasing to 59.6 per cent last year.

The turnaround is due, according to long-time Tamaki College principal Soana Pamaka, to a variety of things - including hard work, the University of Auckland Starpath project for better educational achievement in secondary schools, the Ministry of Education's ART (Achievement, Retention and Transition) programme which identifies pupils at risk of missing NCEA Level 2.

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Then there's the Manaiakalani programme - a unique digital learning initiative since 2007, supported by the Manaiakalani Education Trust and assisted by a number of partners, including Spark. It's a beginning-to-end programme across 12 schools in the Glen Innes/Tamaki area - a thrust designed to accelerate students' learning by working daily on digital devices and making full use of digital resources to enhance learning ability and motivation.

"Spark and the Manaiakalani programme are about opening up possibilities and opportunities for these students; preparing kids for the future of work," says Lynne de Gros, GM of the Spark Foundation.

The schools, in Glen Innes, Panmure and Pt England, have become increasingly digital. Every child receives a Chromebook laptop or tablet, paid off by their parents over time - and teachers manage the learning in entirely new ways. Not only can teachers share resources, parents can also click in to witness their child's work and progress.

It's paid off. In the last article in this series, we centred on Noah Samuels, a talented 10-year-old at Pt England School, whose obvious abilities - and prospects for the future - were even more obviously boosted by the digital learning programme (SEE VIDEO).

Tamaki College is the secondary school where most of the primary school pupils, like Noah, end up. As part of Manaiakalani, the college went fully digital in 2012, meaning every student has a laptop or tablet - and the results have been at least part of the reason Tamaki College has improved results, and the likely future, for their school leavers.

"There are a lot of different factors behind the better pass rates," says Pamaka, "but there's no doubt Manaiakalani is a strong enabler for our students."

Executive chairman of the Manaiakalani Education Trust, Pat Snedden, called the Tamaki College increase in pass rates "remarkable" and one of the most significant things to happen in the Manaiakalani community.

"Going from pass rates in the low 30s to near 80 per cent is incredible," he said. "It tells us that, when you bring the tools of digital enablement to communities of learning who haven't had access before, you get remarkable and intuitive take-up of the capacity of these tools to improve learning."

The first batch of Manaiakalani pupils exposed to the digital learning programme are now Year 13 leavers at Tamaki College - about to enter tertiary education or the workforce.
Bobbi-Grace Vili, a prefect at Tamaki College, was one of the first to come under the Manaiakalani influence - and is aiming to do a combined arts and science university degree next year.

"It's given me more opportunity and I've had access to information I wouldn't have otherwise," she says. "I also think it's given me more as a person, helping me socially and in other areas of life."

The trust has also engaged the University of Auckland's Woolf Fisher Research Centre (WFRC) to track pupils across the 12 schools, measuring their progress. Professor Stuart McNaughton, of WFRC, says: "Census data for males show a 20 per cent increase in income over those with no qualifications with NCEA 1 - and over 40 per cent increase in income with Level 2/University Entrance."

Tracking of the Manaiakalani students showed "substantial acceleration" occurred for students in years 4-10 when tracked over three years, especially in writing - the major focus between 2012, when WFRC came on board, to 2014.

"If a child was continuously present in a Manaiakalani school, if they got the full dosage, the rate of gain in writing was twice that expected nationally," said McNaughton.

Dorothy Burt, innovation leader for Manaiakalani says: "The educational achievements are important, of course, but Manaiakalani is also equipping these kids with confidence and skills beyond the technological; It enables multiple levels of feedback from teachers and doesn't just rely on the teacher-student relationship - but brings parents and the whole community in, helping equip pupils socially and for life in general."

The Manaiakalani Education Trust was formed in 2011 and is supported by philanthropy, the government, national and local businesses, such as Spark.