Broadband Basics

Enabling learning beyond the school gate

By
Chorus
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April 26, 2019

Talk to anyone involved in the Haeata Community Campus or Rātā Street school pilots providing free Wi-Fi access to the safe, filtered internet service they get at school and they’re all in agreement that today’s schooling isn’t what most of us will recall from our school days.

Digital and the need for digital literacy, dominates both school work and homework, with both frequently done online. Today’s schools have fleets of laptops, Chromebooks and tablets, with high speed internet connections allowing always-on access to educational programmes and reams of information for research.

But for an estimated 100,000 Kiwi students, internet access – and the learning that comes with it – ends when the school bell rings at 3pm.

In September, pilots to provide connectivity for students without internet access at home kicked off at Haeata Community Campus and Lower Hutt’s Rātā Street School. The 2013 Census showed 40 percent of Aranui, where the trial is being held, didn’t have Wi-Fi at home. At Rātā Street School that figure increases to around 50 percent.

The pilots, which are both being led by local community trusts, are part of the government’s Equitable Digital Access for Students initiative.

While both schools are addressing the same problem, they’re using different technologies with Haeata extending its school Network for Learning (N4L) managed network using Wi-Fi, while Rātā Street’s pilot uses fibre to homes. Both tap into the Crown-owned N4L network, which provides safe, filtered web access for students.

Mike Lott, Chorus head of innovation, says the Haeata Community Campus solution is ‘a classic community Wi-Fi network’, with 66 wireless access points deployed on telephone poles across an area bordered by Anzac Drive and Wainoni, Breezes and Pages roads. The network, accessible only by students whose devices are registered on the Haeata Community Campus network, provides filtered web access to 360 students in 190 homes.

For Naenae’s Rātā Street School, Chorus has installed fibre to 125 homes of year five and six students, 70 of which previously didn’t have any internet access. The proprietary solution sees Ruckus Wi-Fi units connected to the optical network terminator providing wireless access to the school’s N4L network, without the need for a commercial broadband service.

“Over the next 10 years we will all be migrating to fibre, so putting in fibre now makes sense,” Lott says. “This is a technology trial to see if it works and then we can figure out if it’s a good idea commercially.”

Deputy principal Glenda Stewart with students from Rata Street School
Deputy principal Glenda Stewart with students from Rata Street School

MORE THAN A SIMPLE TECH ISSUE

But providing access is only one part of the issue, with a lack of devices being one of the key challenges.

While Rātā Street School is providing its year five and six students with Chromebooks, Haeata Community Campus has partnered with IT reseller Cyclone and Acer to provide a finance offering which allows families to purchase an Acer TravelMate Notebook, insurance and laptop bag for $5 a week over three years.

Arnika Macphail, programme manager for the Greater Christchurch Schools’ Network (GCSN), says the deal means students, and their families, get the benefit of a computer of their own. “It’s also having that ownership of something, which means we tend to look after it better,” she adds.

Both projects are being led by community trusts – in Haeata’s case, the GCSN, and in Rātā Street’s, the Taka Trust.

It’s no fluke that Haeata and Rātā Street were chosen as pilot schools; both were already embracing modern learning. Haeata, which opened in 2017 and was formed from the closure of four schools, offers individualised, self-selected studies, with students working mainly online.

Macphail says one major plus for the pilot is that it doesn’t require big changes for Haeata’s teachers. “They’ve got learning set up online for students, it’s just how they work when they’re at school, and it’s part of the school culture, so there’s no extra pressure for teachers,” she says.

21ST CENTURY LEARNING

 Glenda Stewart, Rata Street School deputy principal says the project will develop stronger learning partnerships with whanau. “We don’t know what the future holds for our students, but we do know that they will need to be digitally literate; they will need to be able to access information from a range of sources, think critically about it and communicate effectively. This project will help to develop all of those skills. It will begin to even the playing field with their peers in higher socio-economic areas.”

All involved are hoping that the pilots will be expanded.

Chorus is covering the costs of all Wi-Fi and fibre deployments for the pilots, but Lott is clear that he views them as a potential new line of business for Chorus.

“There might be as many as 100,000 kids around the country who don’t have access to broadband at home. We’re trying to work out whether we can create a more cost effective service that meets everyone’s needs."

And Lott doesn’t believe the benefits are only for high deprivation areas.

“It could work anywhere. We talk about low deciles, where we have been looking at, but equally, you’ll have high decile schools that have pockets of deprivation in them and it’s important to get these sorts of solutions to them so the kids there don’t feel excluded,” he says.

“New Zealand has such good infrastructure now with UFB, this could be done nationwide, providing all students with access to their school material in a safe and secure way, both at school and at home.”  

Article abridged from The Download, https://thedownload.co.nz/reports/stretching-school-networks/

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