Amazing catch from Maui's hook in education

Michael Field

A startling education revolution is winning global attention in one of the most unlikely places – amongst the Maori and Pacific island state house kids of Auckland ’s Tamaki.

In places like Glenn Innes, long written off as ghettos of poverty and crime in the country’s oldest state housing project, children are rapidly reaching national norms in reading, writing and mathematics.

WiredIn some of the schools, all Decile-1 meaning the poorest, the children are rampaging through the national syllabus well before the year is out – and the teachers are coming up with new and innovative ways of teaching.

It’s been done with a striking private trust that with parents has come up with a way for every kid to have a computer notebook and eventually 24/7 access to high speed wireless.

“It is a big change in the way teaching is done,” says Pat Snedden, chairman of the $4.5 million public, philanthropic, commercially funded Manaiakalani Education Trust.

“One of the poorest communities in New Zealand has decided be one of the biggest investors in their own kids.”

While middle class families angst over computer technology for children, Tamaki families have done it for themselves.

By the end of this year 2500 children will have their own netbook and Google Document account.

It is not free; parents have to pay a deposit of $40 for the netbook, and $15 a month to cover the $580 cost.

It’s a lot to ask from among the nation’s poorest families – although they save by not having much of a stationary bill, just $8-$10 a year.

“We have not had a single turn down by any parent in the area in the process of signing up the netbooks.”

Manaiakalani (the ‘hook from heaven’ that was given to Maui so he could succeed in the world’s largest ever fishing project) began with seven local schools and is attracting top executives from Google and Microsoft and armies of experts.

As with Mayor Len Brown on Friday, they leave inspired by the kids and what they’ve seen.

Brown arrived full of glad-handing, and left asking to come back soon.

“Lots of important people are coming to see them now,” says Snedden – brother of the more famous Martin, “and that is telling these children that they are so good, they are so employable and that you are so bright.

“That happens time and again… this is a really big message for people to hear.”

Big money is coming into Tamaki and Snedden says the motivation is to change the dynamic in Maori and Pacific education.

“We have got to show that people are bright and clever and can do well. All we have to do is change the teaching methodology, otherwise we will keep getting low results.”

Eight 10 year old children ran the presentation for Brown and each noted an event that occurred the year they started school. For one it was the year the first I-phone was sold, another the year Google bought Youtube and another started school the same year iTunes had one billion downloads on it.

E-learning professional development teacher Dorothy Burt says this link is crucial for  children in schools now are “post-2005 babies”.

That was the year Youtube started, and today’s children now live in a world completely rewired to what parents lived in. Children, she says, live in a world which is about sharing themselves and digital space.

“Schools have to change because of that, we might as well be teaching a Victorian Sunday school if we don’t because that is how different it is for these children from how children of the 70s lived,” she says.

“We have to get our heads around this, we cannot engage, particularly the most disadvantaged children, but any children, if we are not living in this world, if the school isn’t the world they were born in and live in.”

Point England began podcasting in 2005, and became the 20th ranking podcaster for a time in the US .

They quickly noticed that those hardest to reach in old schools – particularly Pacific Island and Maori boys – quickly became engaged.

“Suddenly they were reading books. Kids were hunting down books because they wanted to share their ideas out in that space.”

As it spread the data was surprising.  Previously one cohort of children who had in one school year scored 1.05 years of progress in reading in a <single> year. The following year, with podcasting and a Literacy Cycle, the same cohort was scoring 1.74 years progress in a year.

Tamaki schools have cut back on exercise books now; the children have their own Google Apps Accounts accessible by the teachers. They can use them any time; teachers have Google dashboards to go into the work at anytime.

Point England School children have become bloggers;  several of them have scored over 20,000 hits.

Children use a bewildering array of applications to create movies, write music and learn.

Burt says the Tamaki message is quality teaching with children given the digital tools and the appropriate online space to be in.

“What we said in 2010 was, what if we could give every kid the same opportunity the entitled child has… what if every kid had the opportunity for time with digital tools, time and teachers had the necessary school  professional development. “

Children can learn anytime, just like others.

She says they are not ensnared by the Internet, they use it. Music has exploded across Tamaki – and they put their products everywhere.

She laughed at the sight of two Tamaki students sitting on a roadside using their netbooks to write something.

“It is such a different world.”

Pt England Principal Russell Burt – her husband - is proud of the school’s sevens rugby side, they’re national champions.

They learnt what to do on Youtube; playing again and again the stuff Gordon Tichens is paid big money to coach.

“At lunch time, without telling anybody, they went out on the field and were replaying all the moves they had seen over and over again on Youtube.”

Two years ago the school advertised for a new teacher. Being Decile-1, they got few appropriate applicants.

The class without a teacher then made a Youtube advertisement telling the world what they wanted in a teacher.

They got over multiple applicants; the woman who got the job replied with a video application addressed to the students – not the board.

Manaiakalani is being closely monitored,  not because of a political demand for results but because all involved are determined to  be certain about what works and what doesn't. 

Their studies are revealing motivated students with rapidly improving literacy.

“Boys found computers made writing easier and more legible than their handwriting,” said one study.

“For students from a low socio economic background it was extremely powerful to know that your ‘voice’ was being heard.”

Achievement shifts were significant.

“With the advent of netbooks in 2011, schools are starting on a new and innovative initiative that, with careful planning and implementation and adequate support and funding, could be the key to 21st century education in New Zealand .”

4 March 2012





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