The Government of New Zealand will look into possible mobile-learning initiatives to connect rural schools, following its announcement to subsidise the costs of ultra fast broadband.
“The Ministry of Education is currently looking at how to harness the potential of digital devices that nearly all students have already – their mobile phones,” Colin McGregor, Ministry of Education, group manager of curriculum teaching and learning design, told FutureGov Asia Pacific.
“An ‘m-learning’ pilot has already been successfully implemented by Onehunga High School. The Ministry is currently supporting a second project at Howick College in partnership with Waikato University and Vodafone.”
The government has identified broadband as a significant driver for e-learning and equity in education and has committed to providing 97 per cent of schools with access to speeds of 100Mbps or more via the national fibre rollout.
The remaining 3 per cent in areas too remote for optic fibre currently receives 10Mbps via satellite or wireless technologies.
Rural schools were previously required to contribute to receive fast broadband, which in some cases amounted to thousands of dollars, and varied between schools according to their locations.
“There is increasing evidence that the increased learning opportunities made available by ultra-fast broadband have the potential to significantly enhance student engagement and can be particularly effective for students with a history of underachievement,” McGregor said.
The ministry has been using the Virtual Learning Network (VLN), which provides mainly rural students with access to online courses.
In 2010, more than 2000 New Zealand students took part in these virtual classes over the VLN.
There has also been an on-going investment in building teacher capability in ICT over the last eleven years through the Communications Professional Development Programme (ICT PD), which will be altered in 2011 to better align with the fibre roll-out.
Other initiatives include the Ministry of Education’s Laptops for Teachers and Principals scheme, which subsidises the leases on laptops for permanent, full-time or part-time teachers at state and integrated schools.
The Ministry has about two thirds of the lease cost of the teacher’s laptops and fully subsidises the base model for principals. More than 43,000 laptops are currently on lease, representing an 88 per cent uptake.
MacGregor said there were no plans to extend the scheme to students. “However, a number of schools already have innovative programmes utilising a wide range of digital devices,” he said.
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