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Accelerating uptake of technology skills

The ubiquity of ICT in New Zealand schools is a myth, according to Accelerating Aotearoa. The charitable organisation that has been conducting a series of community-based programmes to grow technology skills in underserved areas in South Auckland, writes Lee Suckling.

“We believe every child in New Zealand could be properly equipped to be a leader if they had ICT skills,” said Judy Speight, founder of Accelerating Aotearoa and Accelerating Auckland, which is currently working with Otara, Manurewa, Mangere communities. “The all-pervasiveness of digital technology is not a reality in the schools we’re in. When I walk into a classroom with 30 tablets in a 1 or 2 decile school in South Auckland, they’re gobsmacked.”

The South Auckland-specific Accelerating Auckland programme focuses on growing the talent pipeline in Ma-ori and Pacific communities.

“Talent is really underrepresented in that sector. So, we get IT mentors on the ground – we seek out local Ma-ori and Pacific professionals where possible – because these kids need to see themselves. They need to see a future, and what the jobs and the people really look like.”

Connected approach

Accelerating Auckland takes a ‘connected approach’ in doing this. Its multi-faceted programme incorporates working with early learning providers to give resources to help them encourage interest in ICT among young people; working with high school pupils to develop their dreams into reality; running ‘Geek Camps’ to give hands-on experience with technology; facilitating internships; and involving communities in the whole process.

“We bring in professionals from the industry, tertiary providers, and government agencies, and allow kids and their families to learn new skills and see what it’s really like to work in digital jobs. When you leave the programme, you’ll have some skills in an area you have interest in, say animation, because you’ve had first-hand experience doing it. You’ll also have a real idea what kind of jobs it could lead to, and what the professionals doing them look like.”

Talking to professionals

In April, Mangare Town Centre Library hosted ‘Park Jam’, a free digital workshop where the community could “come along, have a go, and talk to professionals about 3D printing, animation, game making, social media, web design, and even augmented reality”, Speight explains.

“We had one Year 8 boy come along who had never shown any motivation at school, according to his principal. He came to Park Jam, and was absolutely obsessed with robotics. He just didn’t want to leave this amazing opportunity alone. Now, we’re trying to see if we can get a set of robots to that school.”

Working ‘with’ the community

It’s important for schools to know, Speight believes, that these acceleration programmes are not something they’re doing ‘to’ a community; they’re working ‘with’ community leaders to help grow the talent in their region, starting at a young age.

“We want teachers to know there are the teams and resources out there, and we will come and support them. If a school is in need, we’ll be there in a flash.”

However, the current focus will remain on South Auckland skills until Accelerating Aotearoa’s goal of “lighting up these communities” is achieved, Speight adds.

“We’ve had people say, ‘come out west; come down to Wellington’, but we can’t spread ourselves too thin. We want to create sustainable and systemic change and this might be a five-year project for South Auckland. We can’t grow too fast; this programme needs heart and commitment to these people.”

The overarching goal for Accelerating Aotearoa with Accelerating Auckland is to inspire young people that do not otherwise have inspiration.

“We are giving people the opportunity to ‘dare to hope’ there could be a different life. But hope needs a deliberate effort, and everyone working together.”   

Lee Suckling writes for INTERFACE Magazine.

For more on Accelerating Aotearoa go to acceleratingaotearoa.co.nz

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