Greetings from Your Foreign Correspondent: A report about support for Christchurch’s Schools (by Douglas Harre)

Douglas Harre

Douglas Harre and CORE Education have very kindly given me permission to share the following report with you, which gives a vivid insight into some of the challenges the students and schools are facing, and the amazing ways in which they are rising to those challenges. The Ministry of Education and Core have been spearheading support that is being offered to schools in Christchurch, alongside a wide range of other committed personnel – many of them voluntary.

Douglas Harre wrote (13th March 2011):

Parts of Christchurch do feel somewhat otherworldly at present, so I thought I would take a moment to report on one part of Core’s support for schools in that still somewhat beleaguered city.

I am back working with the MoE over the next couple of weeks to assist with getting the ICT systems of damaged schools up and running , although it is likely that the schools will need a large amount of ongoing assistance for a couple of months.

As you will be aware there are many more schools badly affected by the Feb 22 quake (up to 30?) compared with the Sept 4th event (only 2 local schools closed after that event).

The Ministry of Ed and local schools/BoTs have been working hard to find space for schools that have been given the dreaded red sticker and are therefore out of action in the short to medium-term.

The result is that many schools will be sharing space in the interim – it looks as though primaries and intermediates will share space at the same time and high schools will split their day 50/50 (-ish).

About 100 students from St Mary’s Primary are therefore moving into the hall of another unaffected school nearby – the hall will be divided into 5 partitioned zones that teachers and children will work in until the fate of their own school becomes clear. The school needs to have broadband, power, data, and a wireless network put into the hall….. “And oh” said the St Mary’s principal (with a hopeful smile on his face) “if you can get us 10 desktop PCs that would be greatly appreciated”.

Heaton Intermediate (500 students) was the next school to visit…. their 3 year old, stylish, angular, steel and glass admin block/staff room doesn’t look too bad from the drive, but once inside you can see how walls have come away from floors, things have a generally Pisa Tower-ish look to them and the staff room has an unappealing layer of detritus that came up through the floor boards and oozed everywhere within 10 minutes of the quake. Broken glass is still strewn across the floor from when the dishwasher door flew open and disgorged its contents at the peak of the shaking.

Heaton’s Yr 7s are off to Casebrook Intermediate and their Yr 8s to Breen’s Intermediate – so each of those host schools are working hard to find space (old rooms, garages, spare prefabs, large cardboard boxes) and facilities for 250 students and their teachers who are about to turn up later this week.

Fortunately Heaton managed to get their servers out, plus they had a backup (yay!) and a[n]…offsite backup also (double yay!!) so they are looking good…..now we just need to get the infrastructure and associated hardware going to use it in the host schools. As the Heaton teachers have been using eTap (a hosted SMS) and KnowledgeNet (hosted LMS) they will be able to continue to use those products in their new location. Cloud computing is looking increasingly attractive to those schools with email servers buried under a steel beam or in a location with no power….

As an example on the secondary front Avonside Girls High School is moving to the Burnside High School site – the high schools are going to run consecutively rather than simultaneously – so it looks at though BHS will operate 8am to 1pm, then AGHS moves in from 1.30 to 5pm…..AGHS has managed to get a lot of their PCs out of their outlying buildings but about 30 TELA laptops remain trapped and alone in the badly damaged admin block (generally with a multitude of teacher resources on each one). As you can imagine this is one more stressor for teachers who may also have power or water off at home, or be dealing with injured family members.Benq laptopImage via Wikipedia

Your correspondent was able to acquire laptops for those teachers direct from Equico, so they are being couriered down to BHS over the weekend, re-imaged Monday/Tuesday by IT staff to make them ready for the AGHS teachers. What we CAN’T do is replace the resources on the laptops (if they aren’t backed up) so we will see how that unfolds over the next week or so.

(Note to self and ourselves: ensure personal backup plan is in place, functioning and tested).

Last example is Unlimited/Discovery1….the two schools in the heart of the CBD, 650 staff and students in a modern, vertical, concrete and glass structure….state of the art ICT facilities/fast fibre connection and with the city as their learning environment. It is in the Red Zone so is off limits – all teacher laptops, school computers and servers (and backups) inside….a sub-optimal scenario to say the least.

Those two schools are being relocated for the next month or two to a rural, horizontal, one story school on the outskirts of the city…..an interesting cultural change for students who may not have seen a cow for sometime, felt grass between their toes or who may now have to travel 3 kms for a double trim latte…..but as many have said “needs must”….and (hopefully) a fantastic learning opportunity for all concerned.

A lot of school busesImage by wheany via Flickr

There’s a big team of MoE people there also, but spare a particular thought for Bernie Scannell (the Queen of School Transport), who has been living out of a suitcase in Chch while trying to organise the dozens of buses that will be required to pick up 6-7000 school kids twice a day and deliver them to and from their new schools, across a pretty broken transport network.

In the midst of all that is happening in the wider Chch context I would really like to note the rallying of teachers and schools together to support one another – in all my conversations with principals and teachers last week there was a very supportive atmosphere….this has been aided and abetted by the sterling work of numerous Core people around the country who are contributing in a variety of ways – the rapid development of last week’s wiki being an excellent example. People in the schools are VERY appreciative (and aware of) the work occurring nationwide to assist them.

As you are all aware Core staff in Chch have an additional range of personal and professional challenges to deal with, so it has been gratifying to watch the support flowing in for them in particular.

Hopefully this has provided one small set of examples re the challenges schools are facing in the city. Morale is generally pretty high, but people are very realistic about the challenges ahead. How it will all play out in the longer term regarding the provision of education in the city as a whole, is an as yet unanswered question.

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About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ (http://www.ethosconsultancynz.com/). I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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