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New video-conferencing service for schools

New video-conferencing service for schools

A new video conferencing bridge service will be available to 72 schools throughout New Zealand for the start of the 2004 school year with a further 17 schools linking in later in the year, Education Minister Trevor Mallard announced today.

The video conferencing service will be available free of charge, and replaces the user pays service which currently costs schools an average $50 per 50 minutes of link-up, plus $150 month for support.

"This free service is an exciting development for education in New Zealand. For an increasing number of rural schools, video conferencing means they can collaborate with schools in other areas, sharing teachers and resources," Trevor Mallard said.

"It's great to see school clusters throughout the country using video conferencing to widen the subject choices available to their students. This is excellent news for students and means we are really starting to grasp the benefits which the digital age can bring to education.

"Through video conferencing there are also some real opportunities and savings in professional development. Teachers, who otherwise may have had to travel considerable distances, can use video conferencing to take part in professional development from their own school.

"Making sure New Zealanders have the skills to equip them for life and work in the 21st century is a key education priority for our government.

"That's why we are deliberately focussing on information communications technology (ICT) to support student learning, but also as an important means of developing a more innovative economy.

"The gains in teacher use of ICT in the classroom, and the imminent rollout of high speed broadband across New Zealand through the government's Project PROBE all add to this goal." Trevor Mallard said the Auckland company Asnet Technologies Ltd had won the tender to supply the video conferencing bridge to schools for the next three years.

The video conference bridge project involves:

hardware to allow all schools currently using video conferencing to continue to use it free of ongoing bridging charges; hardware to allow the Ministry of Education to use video conferencing free of ongoing bridging charges across 25 ministry sites, saving staff travel time and costs; user support for all schools and the ministry; software and systems to make the scheduling and booking of sessions on the bridge as easy as possible for all users; hardware to allow free bridging to audio and tele-conferencing for schools and the ministry; and capacity to make future growth as simple as possible.

The service is funded at $2.7 million over four years.

Attached is the list of schools around the country that will be able to make use of the video conferencing bridge.

Attached also is a related article by Trevor Mallard for use on editorial pages which outlines government initiatives in ICT, focussing on the roll-out of high speed internet access to schools in regional areas through Project PROBE (Provincial Broadband Extension).]

The delivery of high speed internet access to regional New Zealand under a government initiative offers huge opportunities for students and local communities in education and regional economic development. Education Minister Trevor Mallard explains.

Their classrooms are in a different hemisphere, but when students from Hato Paora College met for a video conference with students from Hartford, Connecticut, their faces and voices were loud and clear.

In November internet technology saw students from Hato Paora College, a Mäori boys boarding school in Fielding, discuss history, culture and geography with Hartford's adult education programme students.

The Hato Paora students opened the session by welcoming the Hartford students with a traditional chant accompanied by guitar.

Soon students nationwide will enjoy the same access to online learning opportunities as these young people through a government initiative that is delivering broadband to all New Zealand schools.

Project PROBE (Provincial Broadband Extension), developed jointly by the Ministries of Education and Economic Development, will ensure most schools have access to high speed internet by the end of 2004.

The education sector's projected demand for downloading graphic intensive learning resources, two-way video conferencing and high intensity classroom use position it well to lead the rollout of broadband into regions.

During the latter part of 2003 preferred broadband suppliers for all 14 Project PROBE regions were announced. A preferred supplier for a satellite service for very remote communities will be announced in shortly.

Through Project PROBE high-speed broadband will be available to an additional 750 schools bringing the total to over 2700 schools with some 750,000 students, nationwide.

All these students will now have the same opportunity to become online learners, as they too will be able to access audio and video conferencing, digital resources and participate in discussion forums and online classrooms.

Broadband is the infrastructure for the knowledge economy, delivering the high speed internet access critical to improving our educational and economic outcomes.

Broadband is as important to the modern world as roads and railways were in opening up opportunities for previous generations.

High-speed internet will ensure New Zealand can continue to move forward as an innovative and thriving knowledge society - a key goal of this government.

While two thirds of schools are networked, many schools in provincial areas are affected by very slow connection speeds or cannot afford the available high-speed connections.

Project PROBE is intended to ensure that all schools, in particular provincial schools, will have sufficient bandwidth to meet their needs.

This government is also backing the rollout of broadband technology with a significant investment in information communication technologies (ICT) in last year's budget. Nearly $98 million is targeting ICT initiatives in the school and early childhood sectors over the next four years.

These include: nearly $42 million for developing ICT access and infrastructure allowing schools to connect in a safe and secure environment with one another, the internet and to the Ministry of Education; nearly $15 million for improving the standard of school administrative systems; over $6 million to develop and expand effective e-learning practice; and over $28 million to increase teacher capability in ICT teaching and learning skills.

These initiatives will provide schools with the ability to connect to broadband safely and securely and take advantage of additional online learning and teaching opportunities.

We are also supporting schools through: the laptops for teachers programme; the ICT professional development cluster programme; upgrading of Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) - the on-line learning centre for teachers and schools; the introduction of e-learning fellowships; development of digital learning resources from the Learning Federation which will allow students to interact in 3D on the computer; a new video conferencing bridge for schools; and a range of infrastructure initiatives starting in 2004.

Schools that already have broadband connections are enthusiastic about the benefits for improving learning opportunities for students. Pilot projects have successfully demonstrated that two-way video over high speed internet connections can allow specialist school subjects to be taught to learners at very remote locations.

With broadband access, students in rural schools who used to be limited in the subjects they could study are able to take specialist courses and access the best teaching resources from around the world.

High-speed internet can connect them to the world in a way that was never possible before, broadening their learning horizons and the contact they have with other students.

The OtagoNet programme, established in 2001 and involving nine schools, sees them successfully using ICT to strengthen the curriculum by bringing subjects into the schools that were previously unavailable. The schools also work closely with CoroNet - a Coromandel based learning network - and they have a strong relationship with Otago University.

As the bandwidth will also be available to others in the communities the implications for regional economic development are enormous.

Broadband will enable rural businesses to access quickly and efficiently all the resources and business information that’s available on the internet.

It means rural businesses will be able to tap into the same internet capability as businesses in the cities.

Community groups, families and individuals as well as libraries, farmers, local government, marae and welfare and health agencies will also be able to maximise the benefits.

Project PROBE is a prime example of government working in partnership with local communities to support the growth of technical and business skills and build stronger industry networks.

This has been enabled by the establishment of regional liaison teams in each of the 14 PROBE regions - teams that have been working on the ground to ensure regional preferences have been catered for and promotion and industry sector development has been met through regional development programmes.

Great things are already happening in New Zealand schools with information and communications technology. We are posting better results than many systems internationally in providing a learning environment that equips young people with knowledge and skills for the online world.

With broadband infrastructure available to all our schools in the very near future, the opportunities to build on those successes are enormous.

Please visit the PROBE website for the latest information about the project: http://www.PROBE.govt.nz

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