The ‘New Zealand Virtual School’ proposal, led by Allan Jon of The Catlins Area School, Owaka, continues to gain momentum in a bid to become one of five new national Trade Academies sanctioned by the Ministry of Education. The Virtual School would be the first of its type; delivering vocational training to young New Zealanders through a combination of online learning and practical ‘on the job’ experience.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English indicated very strong support for the project following a recent meeting with the New Zealand Virtual School development team, Allan Jon, Gavin Kidd and Kevin McSweeney.
“The New Zealand Virtual School proposal is an innovative project that makes great use of cutting edge New Zealand developed technologies. I think it is a positive idea that meets the needs of New Zealand. It would be a win for Clutha Southland, and a win for young people across New Zealand, through providing a true 21st century solution for our nation’s educational needs,” said Bill English.
The proposal, backed by the leading Auckland based internet technologies firm Outsmart, includes strong involvement by local partners South Otago High School, Blue Mountain College, Tokomairiro High School and Telford Rural Polytehnic. A range of businesses and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) have also taken on partnership roles for sections of the project.
“The New Zealand Virtual School project uses technology to give learners access to the industry experts - no matter where they are, whilst at the same time making learning more engaging, and fun,” says Allan Jon. “It will even include a fully functional 3D Virtual Campus that learners can visit using just a web browser, made by Outsmart, the developers of the online virtual world SmallWorlds.”
“People will be able to access the services from anywhere at anytime. It will be a big step forward as learners will have a lot more flexibility, and the entire concept is about building a framework to connect learners, their whanau, industry and schools through an easy to access solution where isolation is not a barrier to learning. We want to help people move towards the industry and career that they are really interested in,” he said.
Local communities have also indicated their support for the establishment of the New Zealand Virtual School. Maureen Wylie, Kaumatua of the Waikoau Ngai Tahu Runanga, says that it would be a positive step in meeting the needs of young people.
“The New Zealand Virtual School has the potential to offer Rangatahi opportunities to develop the skills that are necessary to enter the workforce with the knowledge that they are valued and that there is real work available - showing them that they are able to contribute to our society, and that our society not only values them but desperately needs their expertise,” she said.
The establishment of Trades Academies is designed to get young New Zealanders more engaged in education, by delivering trades and technology programmes to school-aged students, based on partnerships between schools, tertiary institutions, industry training organisations and employers.
Presently twelve applications are vieing for five Trade Academy positions, which will collectively provide industry based training to secondary students across New Zealand. The final submissions are due to the Ministry of Education early in July.
As that deadline approaches, a wide range of industries are rapidly joining the lobby for the establishment of the New Zealand Virtual School. Ian Shepherd, Business Development Manager of the Creative Trades Industry Training Organisation comments that “the development of the New Zealand Virtual School will open up opportunities for school students to develop and then use their creative talents. Gaining access to the Virtual Schools wide range of resources, students will be able to link traditional school subjects and activities to skills and knowledge actually required by ‘real life’ employers.”
“The New Zealand Virtual School initiative has the potential to ignite new interest in the industries covered by the Creative Trades ITO among school students. Training in the creative trades like masonry, painting and decorating and signmaking date back to the middle ages and while they are definitely considered ‘hands on’, they all lend themselves to an innovative virtual training environment”, he said.
This sentiment has been echoed by John McWilliam of ESITO, the Electricity Supply Industry Training Organisation, whose organisation have stated that:
“ESITO is highly supportive of the proposal to develop the New Zealand Virtual School. We commend them on the innovative approach to making trade related subjects more accessible to school students. The initiative has the potential to deliver trade subjects to students in locations which otherwise have difficulty accessing the resources needed to support trade related subjects and activities in schools. Many of the people that work in the electricity supply industry live and work in remote locations. We need the young men and women in these locations to have exposure to the trades so that there is a pool of motivated and trained talent to service the nationally important electricity supply industry. “
The New Zealand Virtual School proposal (http://virtual.school.nz) welcomes discussions with the public as the application process continues to progress. For more information on the proposal, or to have input into the way it is developed, please contact the Project Manager on 03 415 8036 or join the New Zealand Virtual School Facebook group.