Rotary helps Far North schools roll out digital classrooms

A $130,000 Rotary grant has enabled a Far North education trust to expand a revolutionary internet-based teaching system across the region. Paihia School, Kawakawa School and Northland College will join a group of low-decile schools leading the introduction of ‘digital classes”. The started at the beginning of the 2015 school year.

The initiative, led by the Kaikohekohe Educational Trust, seeks to improve academic results and reduce truancy. The founding principals are Jane Lindsay, principal of Paihia School, Lee Whitelaw, principal at Ohaeawai Primary, and Meralyn Te Hira of Kaikohe West School.

It gives children from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to embrace the wealth of learning resources available on the Internet and to learn anywhere, any time and at any pace. At its heart is the concept of learning by sharing, something the internet has made much more possible than before.

The grant from the international Rotary Foundation is being administered by the Rotary Club of Kerikeri. It will enable hundreds of Chromebooks to be introduced into many more schools now and in the future, and will fund the implementation of the project and the training involved.

Chromebook Day. Students at Tautoro School unwrap their Chromebooks and log in to a whole new way of learning.

Chromebook Day. Students at Tautoro School unwrap their Chromebooks and log in to a whole new way of learning.

Chromebooks are laptop computers with limited offline capability, designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet. They are the face of the ‘digital classroom’ system and provide access to a closed and secure environment where sharing, pivotal to this new approach to learning, can take place.

The digital classroom concept was introduced to New Zealand by the Manaiakalani Education Programme, an initiative promoting new learning approaches across a growing cluster of decile 1a schools in the low income, predominantly Māori and Pacific communities of East Auckland.

The Kaikohekohe Educational Trust has already introduced the new system in three Far North schools; Kaikohe West, Ohaeawai Primary and Tautoro. It has been in place here for a year.

Mrs Lindsay says students at these three flagship schools have already demonstrated higher levels of engagement with their studies and a greater willingness to talk about what they are learning and what it means to them. Parents are more engaged, too, and truancy levels have dropped substantially.

Students say their Chromebooks keep all their work in one place, it keeps their work neat and tidy (unlike their desks used to be), and they are digital citizens so they love them. Students are reading more, writing more and far more engaged – this is resulting in improved outcomes in all curriculum areas. Students are sharing their work and learning from one another. Furthermore, parents and whānau have access anywhere, anytime so they can be involved in their child’s learning and support them.

“It’s not a replacement for old-fashioned education values,” Mrs Lindsay said. “It is a replacement for old-fashioned education techniques which have been failing our children for far too long.”

Kaikohe East School, Bay of Islands College and Okaihau College have expressed interest in the Kaikohekohe Learning and Change Network. It is anticipated that numerous other local schools will join in the next few years.

Any school can apply to join the network but its approach is geared to be of greatest benefit to lower-decile schools.

The $547 Chromebooks come loaded with all the software and teacher management tools needed for students to share their work with their peers, pupils in other schools in the network and with their teachers. They also come with a three-year warranty and a robust case. They will belong to the Kaikohekohe Educational Trust until they have been paid for by the students’ parents. The parents of every child signed up to the programme must agree to make repayments of at least $3.75 a week.

The scheme is not mandatory but Mrs Lindsay said take-up had been “close to 100 percent” in the three Far North schools in the network so far.

She said many of the students’ families had no access to computers or the internet.

“If a large proportion of them had devices at home we’d have followed the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model, but the single-device Chromebook model is the best model for these schools in this community. By reducing choice we have increased opportunity,” she said.

Chromebook Day. Students at Tautoro School unwrap their Chromebooks and log in to a whole new way of learning.

Chromebook Day. Students at Tautoro School unwrap their Chromebooks and log in to a whole new way of learning.

The Rotary grant will be used primarily to fund the implementation of the project, the extensive training and professional development of the many teachers involved, and the salary of a facilitator and a part-time administrator identified as essential to its success.

The money has been raised by Kerikeri Rotarian Keith Day, using a Rotary Foundation project-funding mechanism which draws on various ‘pots’ established by various Rotary administrative zones around the world. The Rotary clubs of Kerikeri, Kaikohe and Bay of Islands have all contributed to the project, as has the Harold Thomas Trust and several other community Trusts across the region.

“This is a classic example of the power of the international Rotary network being accessed in support of a worthwhile community project,” said Kerikeri club President Bruce Mathieson. “There is absolutely no way our various Far North clubs could have made this happen on our own. Not a chance.

“What Keith has done is to focus the attention of the massively influential Rotary Foundation on our little corner of the planet – and our children have emerged as winners. Big time.”

Mrs Lindsay said the Rotary grant had given the Kaikohekohe Learning and Change Network “traction” which otherwise would have taken many more years to achieve.

“What Rotary have done for us borders on unbelievable,” she said. “They’ve allowed us to fast-track the implementation. Without them we would have been really struggling.”

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For enquiries please contact:

Neil Blanchfield

President

Kerikeri Rotary club

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