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Rotorua to create district e-learning community

Rotorua to create district e-learning community

20 March 2014

Principals are establishing a Rotorua-wide e-learning community that aims to have internet connectivity across the district and to equip all students with personal learning devices.

The vision is to see all students – from early childhood centres to secondary schools –digitally connected at school, in the community and at home. The project aims to lift engagement and achievement in education and ensure all students have the same learning opportunities.

It is part of the Excel Rotorua education initiative, a Social Sector Trial facilitated by Te Taumata O Ngati Whakaue Iho Ake Trust and supported by the Ministries of Social Development, Education, Health and Justice and the New Zealand Police. Excel Rotorua differs from other Social Sector Trials around the country due to its focus on education and it is anticipated the initiative could provide the blueprint for other communities to follow.

Rotorua educators at today’s (Thursday, 20 March) e-learning project launch, held at Sudima Hotel, were asked to commit to the concept, with several principals speaking in support and encouraging their colleagues to participate.

“Sixteen years ago we began talking about changing our teaching for the 21st Century and catering for 21st Century learners,” Lynmore School Principal and Rotorua Principals Association Co-President Lorraine Taylor says. “There have been some changes but not the huge shifts we wanted to see. Most schools are still trying to establish modern teaching environments with largely 20th Century tools plus a few 21st Century pieces of technology, mostly shared across 30 children in a class.”

Mrs Taylor says Rotorua needs a district-wide community approach to propel the city’s teachers, children and communities into the modern world.

“We need to enable children to learn new things in new ways, create new partnerships and find a common and continuous way of learning, so transition between institutions is smoother and personalises the learning for our students, resulting in better outcomes.”

Rotorua Boys’ High School Principal Chris Grinter says the task is too big for schools to undertake individually but there is now an opportunity to work together to create “anywhere, anytime learning” for all the district’s students.

“Research shows that where these types of models exist, student achievement increases significantly,” he says.

Rotorua Intermediate School Principal Garry de Thierry says e-learning increases student’s learning opportunities and gives them the skills needed to function in the digital world.

“We’ve seen what this can do on a small scale at our school – whole families are now engaged in learning. The potential benefits for a district-wide initiative are huge,” he says. “We talk about poverty in terms of housing, food, clothing, those types of things, but there is also poverty of opportunity. We want to maximise opportunities for students and build their capacity to learn in different ways and at any time rather than just during school hours.”

Another supporter of the project, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ruamata Principal, Cathy Dewes, says e-learning will be attractive to students, most of whom are already “techno savvy” and respond to and engage well with any e-learning opportunity.

“Wider access to e-learning is an inviting opportunity and the challenge for kura will be to enhance students’ learning through this initiative while at the same time maintaining the focus on Maori language revitalisation.”

Ms Dewes says discounts on equipment purchased for e-learning will be made possible through having a Rotorua-wide initiative, providing added benefit for schools and parents.

Excel Rotorua Lead, Leith Comer, says Excel Rotorua will support the e-learning project by helping with connectivity, professional learning and development, economies of scale purchases, best practice, data collection and research.

Mr Comer says Auckland’s Manaiakalani e-learning project, which involves 11 schools, is a good example of how well the concept can work and improve educational achievement. There, families receive support to purchase children’s e-learning devices, there are protocols for e-safety, care and management and families are engaged in overseeing and participating in their children’s learning. The Rotorua initiative will take the concept further by incorporating the entire district, and it will be tailored to local needs and aspirations, he says.

The establishment of a single Rotorua district e-learning community will be followed by creating “communities of places of learning”, groups of schools and ECE centres in various parts of the district working together. It’s envisaged there could be five or six of these clusters.

Later this year an education trust will be established to continue supporting the initiative and ensure that support is sustained.

Work is underway on options for a network to enable all of Rotorua to get connected to e-learning and there will be engagement with and support for parents, Mr Comer says.

About Excel Rotorua

• Excel Rotorua takes a collaborative approach to building on current successes and finding new and innovative ways to achieve better educational outcomes for all children and young people in our community. The initiative is an opportunity to tailor solutions to local needs and aspirations.

• Supported by Government agencies, the two-year Excel Rotorua initiative is one of the Government’s Social Sector Trials, established in communities around the country to test innovative ideas for improving the quality of life for young New Zealanders.

• Supporting government agencies are the Ministries of Social Development, Education, Health and Justice and the New Zealand Police.

• The Social Sector Trials give communities control of resources, decision-making and accountability for results with a community lead appointed – in Rotorua’s case Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Iho Ake Trust – to work with groups to decide how best to use resources to realise the community’s aspirations.

• The Rotorua Social Sector Trial differs from others around the country in that it has a focus on education. It is anticipated by Education Minister Hekia Parata that Rotorua will provide the blueprint for other communities to follow in establishing locally-focussed education services.

• It is envisaged the initiative will set in place a framework that will take education in Rotorua into the future through the establishment of systems, programmes, initiatives and services tailored to local needs to ensure all children and young people can excel in education, from pre-school to tertiary level.

• The name Excel Rotorua is aspirational in nature, recognising that “excelling” in education will mean different things to different people but that all can achieve in education if there are no barriers and appropriate support and services are in place.

• The Excel Rotorua project team is headed by former Ministry of Maori Development chief executive Leith Comer. A Community Leaders Group, chaired by Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick, drives the direction and implementation of projects. This group includes local leaders from many different sectors and agencies and meets regularly. A small Advisory Group provides funding and agency links.

• Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Iho Ake Trust is the educational arm of Ngati Whakaue, which has invested in education in Rotorua for 100 years, both locally and nationally through the Ngati Whakaue Education Endowment Trust.


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