Telecom School Connection Event, linkup from Beehive

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you all today through this Telecom School Connection. Thank you Theresa Gattung and Ben Lummis for hosting this event. And greetings to everyone tuned in to today’s broadcast - the many students, teachers and principals, representatives of boards of trustees and local government, and those involved with the ICT industry who’ve been working with the government in the education sector to provide the technology which makes today’s event possible.

Communications resources like those we are using today are revolutionising education, as they are revolutionising the economy and society. They are opening up new opportunities for students throughout New Zealand, by providing access to resources which might otherwise not be available to many.

The technology being used today is part of the connection which will support the development of e-learning in the future. The fact that this broadcast enables us to connect with so many schools, particularly in remote parts of the country, is due in large part to the government’s investment in broadband technology through Project PROBE.

Project PROBE is a multi million dollar project which ensures that high speed internet access is available for all schools and their communities at the same price as if they were in a town or city.

This whole project, nationwide, is a huge commitment for the government. We are doing it because we see the rapid growth of new technologies as critical to New Zealand developing its full potential as a nation. Broadband is to the knowledge economy what physical assets like roads, ports, and electricity generation are to the economy in general.

Broadband is becoming an essential tool in delivery of education. I have observed this technology at work – in Otago, in the Thames-Coromandel area, at Tuatapere in Southland, and just last month at Reporoa, halfway between Taupo and Rotorua – and have seen the opportunities which it opens up.

Students can now learn via video conference in subjects which they would otherwise have had to do through correspondence. I can see the possibilities for, say, the one student at Reporoa College who might want to learn Spanish, and link up with a larger school; or for the engineering student in Tuatapere who can now see new techniques demonstrated via video conference. This technology makes it possible to study these subjects without changing schools.

What it means for rural schools and rural communities is that they can keep their senior students. It is important for a school to be able to retain its young leaders, who provide guidance and models for the younger students. And if students can stay in their local area, families and communities are kept together too.

As the costs of these new technologies in communications come down, other opportunities will open up. We shouldn’t just confine our vision to thinking about how we will link with students in our own country, or in our own region. There is no reason why we couldn’t be thinking internationally. If you have a sister-school in another country, you could link up there. Anything is possible.

Four weeks ago today, I was returning from visiting the most far-flung part of New Zealand. The Tokelau Islands are accessed by a four and a half hour flight from New Zealand to Western Samoa, and then by another thirteen hours by boat to its southern most atoll. They are still a New Zealand colony, but are about to come self governing.

Seeing the educational facilities they have there would have made a tear roll down the face of every teacher listening today. But, as the cost of communications reduce, why shouldn’t Tokelau’s school children be linking with our students through the Internet to get the very best educational opportunities? Just as this technology will help rural schools to retain their students, so too remote places elsewhere like Tokelau could benefit.

Major investment in broadband and the technology around it is critical to improving the educational and economic results for New Zealand.

Project PROBE is one of many ICT initiatives contributing to the vision of a connected and flexible education system. More than $100 million is earmarked over the next three years for the further development of ICT services for schools. These include:

§nearly $42 million on developing ICT access for schools so that they can connect to each other, the internet, and the Ministry of Education; and
§over $60 million on improving teacher capability, extending the laptop for teachers scheme, and increasing internet safety programmes in schools.

I would like to thank Telecom, which has been a key partner in PROBE, as the approved supplier for PROBE broadband services in 11 of the 14 regions. Telecom’s SchoolZone product, which covers broadband access plus a range of services including safety and security, recently won the prize for the most innovative broadband product at the 2004 TUANZ innovation awards. And the School Connection programme, which we are celebrating today, is one of the major sponsorship programmes for education in New Zealand. Around $11 million has been made available for schools to use as part of this programme in 2004 alone.

Thank you Telecom for arranging this School Connection event today.