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IT Crucial To The Future Of Education

IT Crucial To The Future Of Education

Hon Heather Roy, ACT Deputy Leader 

Saturday, August 15 2009

Technology advances continue to gather momentum everywhere at a remarkable pace.  I suspect we have become so used to this state of affairs that we take the importance of technological progress for granted and are now somewhat immune to the way it has shaped our daily lives.

Schools are where our young people can most easily learn about IT - they are a captive and captured audience.  Have we perhaps become lazy about keeping pace with advances?  In doing so we may be losing valuable opportunities to teach our children effectively and equipping them well for the future.

When I visited Invercargill recently the front page of the Southland Times reported the temporary closure of one of the citys high schools.  Too many teachers had swine flu to staff the school so students were being asked to stay at home and log in to the schools intranet for lessons.  This was reported, almost breathlessly, as a novel new way of teaching.  Yet others have been using this sort of model for some time, and not just in the static way that an intranet provides.

This week I was invited to open the new senior school buildings at the Auckland campus of Westmount School. Westmount is a Brethren school with 15 campuses around the country. All students have availability to the full syllabus the school provides, if not on the site they attend, then by video-conference. Likewise, specialist teachers are employed all around the country and deliver their lessons via video-conference.

Westmount is using Moodle to create a virtual learning environment.  Moodle is an internet-based system for delivering e-learning programmes for educational and training organisations.  With a strong learning focus based on a sound style of instruction or teaching, Moodle can be used to present online content for virtual classrooms - as it is at Westmount School - as well as in blended learning environments.

The system is user-friendly and multi-lingual - making it an effective teaching tool and one of the fastest-growing systems of its kind in the world.

Westmount School also places heavy emphasis on self-directed learning. If we expect adults to be self-managing, lifelong learners then encouraging self-directed learning in schools is crucial. Although the technology used at Westmount is impressive, in reality is an enabler to equipping our young people for the future.

The Brethren have received relentless and unfair criticism over the last few years. This wouldnt be accepted by a tolerant and caring society. In many areas the rest of New Zealand could learn lessons from this minority group. Westmount students are achieving significantly above the national average in NCEA and the technology used to educate their young people would be a good place to start.

I also visited the Computer Clubhouse in South Auckland where IT is being used to teach our young people skills that will set them up for the future.  The Computer Clubhouse is part of the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network - established in the US in 1993.  Today the Computer Clubhouse is an international community of over 100 in 21 different countries.

It is designed to provide a creative and safe out-of-school learning environment where young people from under-served communities - more than 25,000 annually - work with adult mentors to explore their own ideas, develop skills, and build confidence in themselves through the use of technology.  The Computer Clubhouse initiative provides these young people with a range of opportunities - enabling them to better establish constructive dialogue, represent information and ideas effectively, and express themselves more clearly.

The Computer Clubhouse is not a place to go and do your homework.  It is designed to complement learning and help young people develop skills for the 21st Century, find pathways to success, and build a commitment to community service.  It does this by providing free access to high-end technology - including video design, graphic design, web design, music production and more - that these students might not be able to access elsewhere.

In South Auckland, Clubhouse members are predominantly of Maori and Pacific Island descent and all live in low socio-economic areas.  There are expansion plans - more Clubhouses in Auckland and others around New Zealand, but all to serve the same demographic.

The initiative appears to be working, with young people involved reporting that they have developed greater competency in problem-solving, collaboration and use of technology.  A recent independent survey commissioned by the Museum of Science found that 76 percent of active Clubhouse members have plans to continue beyond a high school education - bucking the trend of poor education outcomes and low tertiary education participation in under-served youth.  Many at the group I visited reported that the Clubhouse was the only reason they turn up for school each day - its part of the deal that allows them to attend after school.

Both programmes are examples of the way we should be embracing IT in education.  There is much yet to be done and without a focus in our schools innovation will be left behind in favour of a false sense of satisfaction that we are keeping apace of technology.


Lest We Forget - Brigadier Reginald Miles CBE, DSO & Bar, MC
Born in December 1892 at Springston, near Christchurch, Reginald Miles served as an artillery captain and was first wounded at Gallipoli in July 1915.  He demonstrated courage and professionalism in France and received the Military Cross for his service as an artillery office at the battle of the Somme in 1916.  Just a year later he was promoted to Major and given command of his own howitzer battery.  In 1918, he undertook a daring reconnaissance mission at Ploegsteert Wood and was wounded by sniper fire.  This earned him a DSO and, after he recovered from his wound, he returned to active service as Brigade Major of the Divisional Field Artillery.

Following the end of WWI, Miles returned to New Zealand and took command of Wellingtons harbour defences.  He attended the Staff College at Camberley, England, in 1924 and then took a number of specialist artillery courses - becoming one of New Zealands leading artillery experts in the field.

In 1938, with war again on the horizon, Miles - regarded as an able commander and a capable staff officer - was selected to attend London's Imperial Defence College.  He was then attached to the War Office for three months as New Zealand Military Liaison Officer and, upon returning to New Zealand, was appointed third military member of the Army Board and became Quartermaster General - taking a leading role in preparations for war.  The following January he was seconded to the 2NZEF as Commander of the Divisional Artillery, with the rank of Brigadier.
 
In May 1940 he was given command of the United Kingdom Section of 2NZEF, deployed to counter the threatened German invasion.  The following year the Divisional Artillery was posted to Greece, where Miles had to determine how best to deploy his stretched resources to defend Olympus Pass.  He later organised their withdrawal and evacuation in the face of the German advance and, for his service, was mentioned in dispatches and received the Greek Military Cross (first class).

Hospitalised for exhaustion, Miles missed the Crete campaign but rejoined his division in North Africa.  In 1941 he again demonstrated his skill and courage during the campaign to relieve Tobruk.  The regiment lost around 275 men - the heaviest casualties suffered by a New Zealand artillery unit in a single action during WWII.  Miles, who felt his guns had been needlessly sacrificed due to misunderstandings between the division and corps headquarters, was wounded by shrapnel and taken prisoner.

Interned at a high-security prison for senior Allied Officers in a mountain fortress near Florence, Miles set about devising a way to escape.  In March 1943, after five months tunnelling under the castle walls with a kitchen knife and iron bars, Miles - along with fellow New Zealand Brigadier James Hargest - escaped, reaching Switzerland and making their way to Spain with the help of the French Resistance.

This daring escape made Miles a CBE and earned him a bar to his DSO. This week Brigadier Miles' complete set of medals were donated by his family to the National Army Museum.


ENDS

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