A les­son worth learn­ing for schools

Central Leader - - NEWS -

Sadly, it’s too easy to equate the na­tion’s schools with deep prob­lems – as a place which can’t even get its sums right on pay day, where play­ground strife al­ways gets high head­lines, which seems to pro­duce the com­mu­nity’s dropouts and crims, where un­think­ing par­ents play no part and don‘t even give their trou­ble-mak­ing hood­lums school lunch, much less break­fast. Think again. New ed­u­ca­tion is up and run­ning. So are the kids. Lit­er­ally anx­ious to start each day, with new com­puter equip­ment, new ideas, new skills, en­thu­si­asm.

It’s epit­o­mised at Pt Eng­land School, now the hub of a clus­ter of nine Ta­maki district schools – two more to join later this year – where the new ed­u­ca­tion is up and do­ing – and win­ning, har­ness­ing the dig­i­tal world.

Two quotes give a strong guide to the think­ing and the prod­uct.

When cu­ri­ous busi­ness lead­ers visit, hopefully with a cheque­book in their pocket, they are told: ‘‘ We are train­ing your key staff for the fu­ture – not care­tak­ers or clean­ers. Th­ese are the com­puter wizards, plan­ners, engi­neers and ac­coun­tants who will staff and build your in­dus­tries.’’

This seems an un­likely tar­get for a group of low decile, Maori and Pasi­fika sub­urbs. But they mean it, be­lieve me. The other quote, colour­fully and elo­quently tells the story of grow­ing success.

A league coach com­plained to prin­ci­pal Rus­sell Burt that he couldn’t get on with lunchtime train­ing be­cause too many of the team were in the li­brary – read­ing books!

A hint that they might not nec­es­sar­ily make some fu­ture Warriors team but could end with a first class de­gree and a fu­ture.

I’m taken back decades to a Ra­dio Pa­cific in­ter­view I had with Donna Awa­tere who had or­gan­ised a scheme in South Auck­land where pupils there had four min­utes of read­ing, one-on-one teach­ing ev­ery day and where par­ents were taught how to coach at home.

She told of kids ac­tu­ally run­ning to school so as not to miss their four min­utes read­ing, of schools where tru­ancy had dropped away, where high per­cent­age staff res­ig­na­tions be­cause of rough house class­rooms and play­ground vi­o­lence were things of the past.

Where par­ents pre­vi­ously un­seen were join­ing in school ac­tiv­i­ties.

South Auck­land head­mas­ters filled call­back time with their en­thu­si­as­tic back­ing for her claims.

But the government of the day re­fused grants so the scheme strug­gled on briefly with Save the Chil­dren fund­ing then died.

Donna went her some­times bizarre ca­reer way. On the ba­sis of her four-minute plan I’ve al­ways rated her as a lost tal­ent.

Times and poli­cies have changed dra­mat­i­cally. There is no money risk in this in­no­va­tive Pt Eng­land­cen­tred scheme.

The prob­lems there re­flect a statis­tic of our time. In those dis­tant years ago when you and I went to school – per­haps with a framed piece of slate to work on, later chalk and a dusty black­board, many of us at five were al­ready able to spell our name and per­haps the school’s, able to re­cite the al­pha­bet and count to 20.

Now in schools like those in the Ta­maki decile 1 hub, many of to­day’s 5-year-olds ar­rive with only the lim­ited know-how of a 3-yearold.

The Ta­maki hub’s teach­ing meth­ods and state of the art equip­ment deal with that lack and lead the kids down the first path to­wards a 21st cen­tury ed­u­ca­tion.

Pat Sned­den, chair­man of the Mana­iakalani Ed­u­ca­tion Trust, ex­plains the aims and the suc­cesses.

Nine Ta­maki schools – 11 by next year – are part of a project har­ness­ing the best of the dig­i­tal age to im­prove ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards in their largely Maori and Pasi­fika area. Over­com­ing that two-year lag from im­promptu home learn­ing is a first tar­get. The group’s pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial talks about ‘‘en­sur­ing the tools of dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship are avail­able to our stu­dents to achieve the best out­comes for them’’.

In part­ner­ship with the Mana­iakalani clus­ter of schools and the par­ents of the Ta­maki com­mu­nity, more than 2000 stu­dents in years 5 to 13 now have their own netbook (small lap­top) to work on.

To bal­ance some of those prej­u­dices about ne­glect­ful, un­car­ing par­ents, what about this?

In an area where av­er­age adult in­come a year is only around $19,000 a year, Ta­maki par­ents have com­mit­ted them­selves to pay $3.50 a week to­wards paying for the net­books, their up­keep and safety.

More than that, around 300 par­ents are be­ing taught to use the netbook at home and how to sup­port their chil­dren’s new drive for learn­ing.

The trust is jus­ti­fi­ably proud of its par­ents – and for good rea­son.

Those weekly new book pay­ments are part of par­ents paying a third of the trust’s bills. The Government and what Mr Sned­den refers to as ‘‘phi­lan­thropy’’ from in­di­vid­u­als and com­mer­cial in­sti­tu­tions bal­ance the books.

The shared cost: $4.5 mil­lion over four years so far with par­ents as the sin­gle high­est con­trib­u­tor.

It’s all a mat­ter of huge sat­is­fac­tion for all in­volved – like suc­cess­fully swim­ming against the cur­rent.

The out­come: ‘‘Stu­dent involvement has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally, read­ing, writ­ing, nu­mer­acy and oral ex­pres­sion have im­proved steadily in line with pro­gramme ex­pec­ta­tions.’’

More than that, the hub group is now work­ing on a sus­tain­able wire­less net­work with Pt Eng­land School as its hub.

Mr Sned­den sums up the fu­ture: ‘‘This af­ford­able wire­less in­ter­net which par­ents will help sub­sidise, will serve the en­tire Ta­maki area – the first project of its kind in New Zealand.

‘‘By the end of the first term all Mana­iakalani clus­ter stu­dents with net­books will have ex­clu­sive ac­cess to it. This is a note­wor­thy achieve­ment, not only in a low-decile Maori and Pasi­fika com­mu­nity like ours but for any com­mu­nity around New Zealand.

‘‘We aim to cre­ate a blue­print for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment in stu­dent learn­ing and dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship as a means of fur­ther­ing ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment.’’

Learn­ing sys­tems pi­o­neered in the Ta­maki com­mu­nity will spread to other low decile New Zealand schools in a sig­nif­i­cant project which could po­ten­tially af­fect more than 100,000 in the next three years.

And the next step for Ta­maki’s fu­ture dig­i­tally skilled grad­u­ates?

Mr Sned­den points to Ta­maki Col­lege where pro­gres­sive prin­ci­pal Soana Pa­maka heads the school which she led to be­come New Zealand’s first fully dig­i­tal state school.

Mr Sned­den and the clus­ter’s am­bi­tion: ‘‘That Mana­iakalani con­tin­ues to be at the fore­front of in­no­va­tive eLearn­ing so­lu­tions in this coun­try … and around the world.’’

This means more of our chil­dren have the chance of the ed­u­ca­tion they de­serve – but too of­ten miss – to suc­ceed in this brave new dig­i­tal world. It’s a win­ner and de­serves an A-plus mark.

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