Northpower Fibre Chief Executive Darren Mason tells us how their ultrafast fibre network helped bring our trust to fruition.
We didn’t look for a sponsorship, we built one out of need. It all came about in 2010 when we began rolling out the Northpower fibre network. Whangarei was the very first city in New Zealand to start, and we needed to find the most appropriate first connection.
Connecting schools and businesses was a government priority, and we soon came across Manaia View School. The school’s principal, Leanne Otene, was leading a journey around engaging kids in a digital format, and the school already had some digital classrooms, so we worked with Leanne to get the school plugged in ahead of a big national launch day.
From that, we were to be rolling out the infrastructure in Whangarei and we wanted to know which areas and community sectors would really see a positive difference through having a fibre connection. So we held a community event in Barge Park, Maunu, with key stakeholders and influencers from a bunch of different industry sectors. The education sector soon emerged as the biggest area, with universal support, that could utilise fibre to potentially change people’s lives. So, for us as an organisation, that’s where we put our effort.
From our work with Leanne we knew we could do more with other schools. That’s what fired us up to make the next step. We were aware of the Manaikalani model and the work they were doing bringing digital classrooms to some schools in Auckland and realised we were kind of doing that here. We had a chat with them about how we could get digital learning devices into the hands of kids at home, and influence a new way of learning to improve the equitable educational outcomes of students. In order to do this, schools needed a vehicle.
So, out of that, the trust was established with the aim to raise achievement levels by making personal-use devices accessible to students from lower-income households. Our chair, Jo Brosnahan, came on board and, with her connections, a fantastic board of very talented individuals with a wealth of experience and skills was formed. We provided the foundation funding, along with a couple who, personally, decided they would help establish it as well.
The trust grew from there, focused on three key pillars – students, whanau and educators – working together. Firstly, this was, and is, a pedagogical change; a different way of teaching, facilitating learning and engaging so a lot of effort was put in around the teaching using local teachers and local support.
Second, the decision was made to work with decile one schools. They are the ones that really can’t afford anything. So, in order to have equitable opportunities, they needed the most help. While all Whangarei schools would receive a high speed fibre connection, these schools were the first to get connected. We also provided the schools with start-up devices, enabling families to embark on a 24/7 learning journey for a rental per week that’s affordable.
I’ve always thought about kids in difficult environments and how to ensure they receive equal opportunities to become anything they desire, rather than being destined to fall into unemployment because they thought they never had the opportunity to engage or learn. We want to make a difference in breaking those society cycles.
The trust’s programme is a way to reengage the kids. If kids are more engaged, they’re more likely to show up and learn. And the results are already showing that there’s real progress in the amount of learning they do, which is particularly exciting and rewarding.
Related: Speeding ahead as first ultra-fast city – Northern Advocate