All schools strive to engage with their communities. Some do it better than others. Here, JUDE BARBACK looks at an outstanding example of school-iwi partnerships in Ruapehu.
The youngest learner at technology learning hub Te Pae Tata is five years old. The oldest is 84.
Ngāti Rangi kaumātua Olive Hawira got involved to learn how to better use her smartphone. Meanwhile Ruapehu College student Te Matau o Te Rangi Allen has been switched on to learning about mechatronics. Others are learning about coding, robotics, digital art, 3D printing and photography. Indeed, there is something for everyone at Te Pae Tata.
Te Pae Tata
Te Pae Tata is based at Ruapehu College – an old senior block at the college was converted into a one-stop community learning centre and conference facility. However, it is community-focused rather than school-focused.
Kids can come and study after school. Their parents can learn the digital basics or upskill in a particular area. The hub offers a range of digital technology courses to students, their whānau, and the wider community. It provides free access to high-speed fibre internet, computers and a relaxing breakout space and offers a number of low-cost or fee-free technology programmes. Among them are an eight-week course covering computer science basics, coding and an introduction to robotics, and a more advanced, exploratory class, learning to solve problems utilising technology.
The announcement late last year that Te Pae Tata’s application for the Government’s digital technologies curriculum contestable funding was successful was the icing on the cake. The funding is to support projects relating to the new digital technologies curriculum.
Ruapehu’s project involves developing learning programmes for years 1 to 8, a year 9 entry profile and a year 10 exit profile, as well as a staff professional development initiative. With Te Pae Tata already established, and a Community of Learning (CoL) up and running, it made sense to develop a project to support the digital technologies curriculum at all year levels and across all schools in the CoL. The Ministry of Education clearly thought so too. Ruapehu’s application was one of nine chosen out of 74 proposals from education and digital technologies providers from around the country.
The Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan
Te Pae Tata’s success is largely due to the iwi-school partnership that underpins it. The hub is actually just one piece in a much larger puzzle. It is one of 23 solutions that the Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan (RWTP) has set out to achieve.
The RWTP arose from Central North Island iwi Ngāti Rangi’s growing sense of disillusionment with the “stark statistics” of its area. They vowed not torest until things changed and created a powerful new vision: “Kia mura ai te ora o Ngāti Rangi ki tua o te 1000 tau - Ngāti Rangi continues to vibrantly exist in 1,000 years”.
A thousand years is a long time. The iwi expects the definition of “vibrantly existing” to evolve with each new generation, reflecting the technology, economy, education, values and overall environment of their lifetime.
With its bold vision in place, the iwi and representatives from the Raetihi, Ohakune and Waiouru communities came together to form a community reference group to develop the Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan.
RWTP’s project manager ErenaMikaere-Most says the group is made up of influencers and leaders in their community. She says it is essential that the plan is developed and led by the community.
“It has to come from the people. They are the ones who know what will work for their community. They also bring in all those employers. They are those employers.”
The idea behind the RWTP is that it seeks to empower whānau to drive transformation for themselves. Not only that, but it seeks to transform the environment to better enable this whānau-driven transformation.
As such, the RWTP involves five focus areas: education, housing, health, social and employment. Each focus area has two key opportunities for transformation and solutions that aim to address both opportunities together. The resulting 23 foundational solutions emerged from the Community Reference Group’s brainstorming.
Early signs of success
Progress has been swift since the RWTP was launched in July 2013.They have achieved
18 solutions so far and Mikaere-Most is confident they’ll achieve the remaining five in the next six months.
She says signs of transformation started to show at the Community Careers Expo in February 2014, a mere six months after the plan was launched.
“We didn’t just want people to get a drink bottle or a bag – we wanted them to get a job,” she said. “We needed to do things differently because what has been done in the past hasn’t worked.”
So they offered free childcare during the expo and free transportation to and from the venue. In the four weeks prior to the expo, ‘work-ready workshops’ were held that looked at things such as CV preparation, interview tips and techniques, legal advice around employment rights, and the expectations of local employers.
The expo itself was attended by 150 participants – an impressive turnout for such a small community – and of these, 76 registered for the job seekers’ database that day. There were 26 employment outcomes from the two-hour event alone and 38 in 2014 in total. More than half of these were straight off the unemployment benefit, says Mikaere-Most. She estimates this equates to around $1.1 million of new income for these whānau.
“If someone goes from having no job to having a job, to having money coming in, then they’re worrying less about paying the bills and they’re spending more quality time with their whānau. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Some members of the older generation were moved to tears by the atmosphere at the expo, such was the powerful feeling of hope.
Ngāti Rangi is keen to tap into the employment pathways that relate to digital technologies. The iwi is mindful that many of the local industries and manual jobs that currently provide employment for the community may not always exist.
The name Te Pae Tata was carefully chosen for the hub; it means to bring distant horizons into the palms of our hands. The people of Ruapehu can expect to ‘plug in’ from anywhere and interact with a global audience.
“There is such opportunity and potential for us in our small area to earn well, comparative to major centres, through digital tech but stay at home where we love to be, and look after our whānau and our special place. And that’s something that the school gets, you know – they get that,” says Mikaere-Most.
It is this sense of shared purpose, of mutual benefit, that guides the success of Te Pae Tata.
“It’s bigger than just us and the school. It’s our entire community, it’s the iwi, it’s our history, it’s our present, it’s our future. We went into the partnership with a shared vision, a shared purpose that lives as part of the plan.
“And considering the fact that our college is 70 per cent Maori it is very important that we have a strong, open and honest working relationship,” says Mikaere-Most.
Ruapehu College principal Kim Basse agrees. She arrived at the school in May 2013, just as the RWTP was launching, and has been heavily involved ever since.
She credits Te Pae Tata’s success with the meaningful and positive collaboration the school enjoys with such a “forward-thinking iwi”. She is quick to point out the level of hard work and commitment shown by a team of dedicated people spanning across the iwi-school partnership, including Mikaere-Most as well as the college’s deputy principal, Jason White and Te Pae Tata tutor Kawana Wallace.
“We’ve found some good local people who are qualified and passionate about digital technology and the advances that it can bring and the opportunities and the potential that it has for our tamariki. No matter where they might go, no matter what industry, no matter what job – they will need these competencies.”
The bigger picture
Basse is intensely interested in the “whole learner”. She doesn’t view their students as kids who “walk in at 8am and leave at 3pm”. She is well aware that any health, housing or other social issues will have a significant bearing on their learning outcomes and that, in turn, their learning outcomes will have a bearing on their employment prospects.
To fully understand why Te Pae Tata is having such an impact, one must understand its place and purpose within the overall plan.
The hub does much more than offer digital opportunities. It transcends school hours, removing limits to learning. It smashes the almost imperceptible barriers that lie at the school-community interface. It links the school and its purpose with that of its community so that education doesn’t happen in isolation to all the other things that are happening in people’s lives; rather it happens simultaneously, holistically.
A line on the Te Pae Tata website sums it up beautifully: “Te Pae Tata provides a platform for so many things, but at the centre of it all is the moral imperative, and our mission; to empower and advance People, Place and Culture”.