Innovative learning network to lift student achievement

  • Anne Tolley

Education Minister Anne Tolley has announced that a dedicated nationwide online network for New Zealand schools will be developed, to ensure that teaching and learning is at the forefront of global educational developments and makes the most of new technology.

The safe, secure system, called the Network for Learning, is estimated to cost between $300 -$400 million over the next 10 years, and will provide high-quality educational content and resources to schools and students, to help lift achievement for young New Zealanders wherever they are across the country.

The Network for Learning, which will be available from 2013, will also simplify and substantially reduce costs for schools accessing ICT content and services, including the cost of internet connections.

“This is hugely exciting for education in New Zealand,” says Mrs Tolley.

“The scale and complexity of the Network for Learning is enormous – with potentially over 2500 schools and more than 800,000 users this will be the biggest network of its kind in the country.

“The Network for Learning will ensure that schools get the most from their ultra-fast broadband connection, and will provide them with affordable access to the latest ICT teaching and learning developments.

“Location will no longer be a barrier for accessing courses. For the very first time every rural and urban school will be able to connect with each other to collaborate and share resources and best practice. For example, a student at a small rural school could take part in a specialist teaching class via state of the art video-conferencing with a large city school. 

“Importantly, the Network for Learning will provide a safe and reliable environment, and will also allow schools to share information with parents.

“The benefits for students, families and teachers will be tremendous and we will work closely with the education sector to make sure it delivers the lift in achievement levels that our young people deserve and that parents want for their children.”

The Ministry of Education is working on the next steps for procuring the technical network, and determining how the Network for Learning will be governed and managed.

The Network is expected to be progressively available to schools from 2013. An update on progress will be provided in early 2012.

Questions and Answers

What is the Network for Learning?

Cabinet has approved a business case for a Network for Learning, a dedicated online network for schools, which will run over the ultra-fast broadband infrastructure currently being rolled out across New Zealand. The Network for Learning, available progressively from 2013, will provide schools with affordable, safe ultra-fast internet access as well as a range of online content and centrally-procured services.

Over the next five years, 97 per cent of schools will receive ultra-fast broadband connections enabling speeds of 100 Mbps plus. The remaining 3 per cent of schools, which are in the most remote locations, will receive a high speed wireless or satellite connection.

Why is the Government doing this?

The roll-out of ultra-fast broadband will lead to increasing demand for online education-related content and services among schools.

The Government wants to ensure that schools make the most of ultra-fast broadband and the educational benefits that go with it, while lowering the costs for schools. Through centralised procurement and management of online services, a Network for Learning will considerably reduce ICT complexity and cost for schools.

How much will this cost?

The estimated cost is between $300 -$400 million over the next 10 years. The exact cost will be confirmed following the procurement process.

What cost benefits will there be for schools?

There will be significant savings for schools. The backing of government and the combined purchasing power of schools will enable the Ministry to procure ultra-fast broadband internet access and other services much more cost-effectively than individual schools could obtain on their own.

The Network for Learning will represent much greater value for schools than they can obtain via the existing arrangements and should therefore make access to online content and services much more affordable for all schools.

What services will be available?

This will be determined in consultation with schools and during negotiations with providers. The intention is to have a range of current and new services that allow flexibility and choice for schools.

What funding will be available to schools?

In Budget 2011, the operations grant for schools was increased, with $4.8 million targeted at ICT in recognition of the growing demand for online education content and services. Schools will receive this increase from the beginning of the 2012 school year.

What support and training will schools receive to use the Network?

The Ministry invests $11.2 million each year in ICT professional development for teachers. Further help, including technical support, will be provided on an ongoing basis to schools to assist them in getting the most out of the Network.

When and how will the Network be procured?

A robust procurement process to obtain a provider for the Network and providers of associated services will be undertaken in due course.

Over the coming months, the Ministry will talk with a wide range of agencies and key sector groups to ensure the viewpoints of all potential users and suppliers are taken into account when planning for the procurement, build and launch of the Network. An update on progress will be provided to schools by early 2012.

How will the Network be governed and managed?

The Ministry is investigating governance and management arrangements. The Government has instructed the Ministry that schools’ views should be strongly represented.

Are there other education networks of this type in use overseas?

Yes, for example the London Grid for Learning.