A new digital teaching system is being rolled out across the Far North of New Zealand by a group of principals and educators with the support of a $130,000 grant from Rotary International.
Paihia School, Kawakawa School and Northland College are joining a group of low-decile schools leading the introduction of ‘digital classrooms’.
As of today, about 70 students at the low-decile Paihia School have new Chromebook computers.
The digital classroom initiative aims to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to have access to learning resources available on the internet and to learn anywhere, any time and at any pace.
The focus of the initiative is the concept of learning by sharing, something the internet has expanded.
The initiative is led by the Kaikohekohe Educational Trust and the founding principals are Jane Lindsay, principal of Paihia School, Lee Whitelaw, principal at Ohaeawai Primary, and Meralyn Te Hira of Kaikohe West School.
The grant from the international Rotary Foundation is being administered by the Rotary Club of Kerikeri and will enable hundreds of Chromebooks to be introduced into many schools now and in the future.
Furthermore, it will fund the implementation of the project and the training involved.
Chromebooks are laptop computers with limited offline capability, designed to be used primarily while connected to the internet.
They are already used in a number of digital classroom settings and provide access to a closed and secure environment where sharing can take place.
The Kaikohekohe Educational Trust has already introduced the new system in three Far North schools; Kaikohe West, Ohaeawai Primary and Tautoro, where it has been in place for a year.
Lindsay says students at these three flagship schools have already demonstrated higher levels of engagement with their studies and a greater willingness to talk about what they are learning and what it means to them.
On top of this, parents are more engaged and truancy levels have dropped substantially, she says.
Students are reading more, writing more and are more engaged - sharing their work and learning from one another. So far the change has led to improved outcomes in all curriculum areas, according to Lindsay.
“It’s not a replacement for old-fashioned education values. It is a replacement for old-fashioned education techniques which have been failing our children for far too long,” she says.
Kaikohe East School, Bay of Islands College and Okaihau College have expressed interest in the Kaikohekohe Learning and Change Network and it’s anticipated that numerous other local schools will join in the next few years.
Any school can apply to join the network but its approach is geared to be of greatest benefit to lower-decile schools.
The $547 Chromebooks come loaded with all the software and teacher management tools needed for students to share their work with their peers, pupils in other schools in the network and with their teachers. They also come with a three-year warranty and a robust case.
They’ll belong to the Kaikohekohe Educational Trust until they have been paid for by the students’ parents. The parents of every child signed up to the programme must agree to make repayments of at least $3.75 a week.
The scheme is not mandatory but Lindsay says take-up has been close to 100% in the three Far North schools in the network so far.
She says many of the students’ families previously had no access to computers or the internet.
“If a large proportion of them had devices at home we’d have followed the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model, but the single-device Chromebook model is the best model for these schools in this community. By reducing choice we have increased opportunity,” she says.
The Rotary grant will be used primarily to fund the implementation of the project, the extensive training and professional development of the many teachers involved, and the salary of a facilitator and a part-time administrator identified as essential to its success.