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Wananga Asked To Review Cellphone Policy

11 April 2002

The government is writing to Te Wananga o Aotearoa seeking a review of the way cell phones are issued to students enrolled in the Mahi Ora employment skills programme, Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister Steve Maharey said today.

Te Wananga o Aotearoa is an autonomous public tertiary institution which operates from 10 North Island campuses. The Mahi Ora employment skills distance education programme began in 2001 and targets people with few or no school qualifications with an intensive work and life skills programme to encourage them into employment and out of benefit dependency. It has enjoyed a relatively high success rate.

Steve Maharey said, following an initial investigation by the Ministry of Education, he has now written to the Chair of the institution’s Council asking that its academic board review the use of cell phones.

“The use of taxpayers funds must in every case be transparently justifiable. While, under law the Wananga is a self-governing public tertiary education institution with responsibility for its day-to-day operations vested in the wananga Council, it also has a responsibility to use public monies appropriately.

“Mahi Ora has been achieving high success rates for a programme of its type. The student population it targets shift houses frequently and is prone to greater levels of drop-out than in other courses

“The Ministry of Education have reported to me on the Mahi Ora programme. It would appear that the use of the cellphones is an important tool to ensure the wananga is able to stay in touch with the students.

“There remain however some specific questions about the use of the cell phones which I would like clarified that would lead to a tightening of the way they are currently distributed and would give greater levels of public accountability.

“Accordingly I have now written to the Te Wananga o Aotearoa’s Council seeking an assurance that it is satisfied the cell phones can be educationally justified and asking that the current distribution policy be reviewed,” Steve Maharey said.

Contact: Michael Gibbs, Press Secretary, (04) 471 9154 or (021) 270 9115,

e-mail: michael.gibbs@parliament.govt.nz.

A series of frequently asked questions are attached.

What course is offering students cell phones?

Te Wananga o Aotearoa runs a Mahi Ora programme which began in 2001. It is a Certificate in Employment Skills programme at level 1 on the National Qualifications Framework. Mahi Ora is a distance education programme and cell phones enable students to keep in regular contact with course tutors.

Last year approximately 4,000 students enrolled in Mahi Ora. This year 12,700 students have enrolled to date. Free cell-phones have been provided to all students enrolled in the Mahi Ora programme since its inception. Cell phones are not provided to students of other Te Wananga o Aotearoa courses.

Why do students receive cell phones?

Mahi Ora is a distance education programme and the use of cell phones is seen by the programme provider as a good way for students and tutors to remain in contact, and therefore encourage students to complete their course.

Te Wananga aims to reach students who may not otherwise participate in tertiary education and considers that the use of cell phones for communication between students and tutors is one tool that helps assist with this aim.

Twenty five percent of the students don’t have access to telephone land- lines and to date forty percent of Mahi Ora students have changed their address at least once while studying in the programme.

What do students on the Mahi Ora course learn?

Mahi Ora students learn skills to assist with career development. As well as learning specific work skills, students receive advice on health issues and options for further learning. There is formal mentoring, support and motivation incorporated into the course for all students. The course is ideal for students in remote communities, as it is distance based.

Is the course successful?

Yes, major achievements include:

- the course has attracted 66% of students that are new to the tertiary sector;

- 70% of students have no formal qualification before joining Mahi Ora; and,

- the course has increases Maori participation in tertiary study.

What do students use the cell phones for?

Students are encouraged to use the free cell phones to contact course tutors with any queries. Students can call a free 0800 number to contact course tutors. Any other personal call costs must be met by the individual student. Each phone comes with a prepaid amount of $10.

How much does providing cell phones to students cost?

This is a confidential cost. A confidentiality agreement has been signed between the phone supplier and Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

Are the cell phones an inducement to study?

No, the cell phones are simply a tool to help students with their course work and to ultimately succeed with their course.

The Wananga use the cell phones provided to students in the Mahi Ora course as a communications tool and not as an inducement to enrol.

Mahi Ora is a distance education programme and regular contact with students is important to retain students in study, and to help them complete the course successfully.

The Ministry of Education monitors any potential use by providers of equipment as inducements to enrol.

Is the government responsible for the distribution of cell phones?

No. Te Wananga o Aotearoa is a public tertiary education institution (TEI) whose autonomy and academic freedom is protected in legislation. Therefore all day-to-day management of courses is the responsibility of Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

The government is committed to ensuring that all money in the tertiary sector is focussed on achieving educational outcomes. It expects tertiary providers to consider whether equipment provided or required for a course makes a significant educational contribution to students’ participation and achievement in that course.

What is the government doing to ensure Te Wananga is not offering an inducement to enrol?

The Te Wananga programme has been reviewed by the Ministry of Education. High retention rates recorded by the programme indicate that students are not enrolling purely for access to the cell-phone.

Steve Maharey has already written to the Chair of the Council of the Wananga to ask him to detail the educational benefits from the cell phone usage.

Questions the Minister has asked the Chair to consider include providing cell phones only to those students who don’t have access to a land line and the possibility of students returning cell phones at the end of the course.

The Minister has also asked Ministry of Education officials to investigate this matter. When the Minister has received answers to his questions, he will be able to consider what if anything he needs to do.

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