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Otagonet Opens Rural Education Possibilities

Otagonet Opens Rural Education Possibilities

Secondary students in virtual class rooms throughout rural Otago are having lessons in subjects they would previously have to leave home to pursue, or do by correspondence.

Using video conferencing by the OtagoNet schools broadband network, students in rural high schools throughout Otago are learning subjects ranging from Maths to Maori, and their teachers are accessing professional development opportunities that previously required several hours of car travel.

OtagoNet was established in late 2001 as a result of a Telecom and Otago Community Trust initiative to upgrade 14 rural exchanges for broadband. It was the first initiative of its kind in the country. After eighteen months operation, the benefits to students, their teachers and the local communities have been considerable. Not surprisingly, other networks modelled on OtagoNet have appeared around the country such as CoroNet in Coromandel and KAWM network of North Island Maori schools.

“OtagoNet has opened up opportunities for teachers as well as students. Teachers are now finding it is viable to take classes in their specialist areas and that means we are more able to retain these teachers and their skills in our rural schools and communities,” said Tony Jenkins, Principal of East Otago High School in Palmerston.

“We’ve also got some great new educational connections happening – for example, the Telford Polytech in Balclutha is now teaching agriculture to rural Otago high school students via video conference. We’re even linking to school networks outside our region and other learning organisations such as the Rotorua Bathouse Museum and the correspondence school,” Mr Jenkins said.

“Teachers are finding excellent practical benefits such as attending professional development sessions with their city colleagues via video-conference so they can swap ideas, information and resources. Previously they needed to spend hours in cars to get to these sessions, so most often they wouldn’t go.”

The network also filters undesirable material from the internet, which eliminates spam email and provides a safe internet surfing environment for students.

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