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Smart Centres

Smart Centres Background Information

A Project Summary - March, 2007

The government announced on July 6 2005 the development of a strategy (Foundations for Discovery) for improving the use of ICT in the early childhood education sector.

Manukau had already started to think about how important ICT can be for improving family and community connections with learning in early childhood centres.

In 2004, COMET was asked to deliver a project on behalf of Council that meets the agreed objectives of the SmartManukau strategy.  Why should the community support the use of computers, digital cameras, and other expensive technology in early childhood centres?

Information and communications technologies are a tool to help centres to engage families in the learning of their children; help them to cope better with administration and management requirements; and help them to connect to community resources. There are some exciting examples of how using technology helps the centres to do a better job of helping children learn.

Project Purpose

The overarching purpose of the SmartCentre project was to enable early childhood centres to use ICT as a tool for

(a) building family and community engagement in learning;

(b) improving understanding and use of ICT in community organisations;

(c) developing links to community library and other community services.

Project Design

The project was designed to be developed in several phases.

  • Building the information base
  • Establishing an advisory group and setting goals for future action
  • Creating models of success
  • Advocating for goals
  • Supporting Capability Development
  • Setting up a community Help Desk resource
  • Building the Information Base

Building the Information Base

COMET commissioned research to establish current access and use of Information and Communications Technologies in early childhood centres in Manukau City, with a particular focus on kohanga reo, Pasifika language nests, and centres delivering to families who do not already have ICT skills and access. The purpose of information was

  • To build a public case for investment in ICT in early childhood centres in the city;
  • To create resources for the centres so that they could apply for funds for purchase of equipment / establishing internet access;
  • To identify needs and align these with the strategic outcomes of the Ministry of Education and other government agencies.


Wairua Consulting Ltd was sub-contracted to complete this work, and the report was delivered on 1 July, 2005.

The outcomes of the research were:

  • Digital cameras are important for documenting learning
  • Computers greatly assist with administration, management and communications
  • Funding and knowledge are barriers to more effective use of tools
  • Pacific Islands early childhood centres are significantly less resourced in this area than others
  • Early childhood centres are important links with their communities and can help to support community development of ICT skills.

Establishing an Advisory Group and Project Goals

The outcomes of the research were reported to a meeting of early childhood representatives in July 2005. An advisory group was established to gain participation from the sector in establishing goals for the use of ICT in Manukau.

A draft set of goals has been drawn up by the advisory group, for further consultation. They are:

  • Every Early Childhood Centre in Manukau will be Broadband connected by December 2006
  • Every Early Childhood Centre in Manuaku will have a digital camera and a printer by December 2006
  •  Every early childhood teacher in Manukau will have professional development to use ICT by December 2006.
  • Every Early Childhood Centre in Manukau City will have a computer for office use and a computer for teaching purposes by December 2006.


Creating models of success

Alongside the research above, funds were set aside to build examples of the use of ICT as a tool to build family and community engagement in learning. The purpose of this phase was to

  •  Develop models that support the particular contexts of early childhood centres in Manukau
  • Demonstrate to philanthropic organisations and others the outcomes of engagement with ICT in early childhood centres
  •  To demonstrate how centres could connect with community libraries and other community organisations.
     

A partnership arrangement was developed with the Auckland Kindergarten Association, using Yendarra Kindergarten and Bairds Kindergarten, to build these examples, during Term 2 and 3 of 2005. At the completion of this intensive process, the kindergartens generated a report which highlighted the value of supporting ICT use. The two kindergartens demonstrated exceptional progress in using the camera and internet connections to communicate with families and to build their own confidence in using the camera.

Advocating for Goals

COMET then prepared an advocacy document based on the research and successful practice pilot, so that early childhood centres could use it to support fundraising and applications for resources not provided by government. Those resources include hardware (digital cameras, computers, scanners, printers, laminators), and broadband internet connections, printer paper, and other costs of technology which become an operating expense.

The document, prepared as a booklet called Plugging in to ICT: A Manukau Perspective, was launched on November 29 2005 at 2pm in the Manukau Room, Manukau City Council Civic Centre. Copies were sent to all centres in the city.

The Advisory Group recommended the development of a brochure for parents to accompany the document, so that parents can become engaged in a centre's planning for enhancing their use of ICTs to support children's learning. These brochures are available free for Manukau centres to use with their families.

Supporting Capability Development

The challenge of the next phase was to find funding to employ a SmartManukau Early Childhood ICT Capability Development Co-ordinator specifically to support centres with few skills and resources. This phase was dependent on further funding. Initially, Manukau City Council  released some funding so the next phase could begin in early 2006. Funding from the Community Partnership Fund began in July 2006, with project completion projected for June 30, 2007.

 The purpose of this phase is:

  • To provide co-ordination for capability development (in particular to work alongside the Early Childhood services division of the Ministry of Education) and the peak organisations such as the Kindergarten Associations
  •  To provide advice and support to centres about how to meet their professional development needs;
  • To  develop the capacity of Pasifika early childhood centres to set and achieve goals for ICT use.

 Over 45 early childhood centres will be provided with a custom assessment of their ICT situation, and be supported to develop a plan for achievement of their goals by July 2007. This has been achieved in partnership with the Auckland Kindergarten Association, the Franklin Kindergarten Association, and Pasifika early childhood centres.

Conclusion

The key phases in the project design above have been achieved.

COMET would like to emphasise that although this project aligns with key government goals, it is a project that has been developed at the community level; and is intended to support community-based organisations to connect with confidence to the community networks and resources available via new technologies.