Proof that ICT is a help to the community

Computerworld Excellence Awards 2005: Excellence in the Use of IT in a Community Project

A community IT technician training project, a Maori language revival portal and an early notification system for informing parents if their children are truanting from school are the three finalists in the Excellence in the Use of IT in a community project category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards.

The Community Technicians Project (Comtec) is an initiative which aims to increase the standard of ICT support for rural schools in the region. Although still in its early stages, the project has already delivered benefits, with one school reporting gains from having an ICT technician on the spot and lower ICT costs.

Comtec involves local people, who are also close to the schools they serve, being trained and certified in ICT support. Last year, schools around the country if they were interested in being part of the scheme and ten schools are now participating in a pilot programme.

The intention is that those providing ICT support to schools under the scheme will go on and offer it to other sectors of the community next year.

Certification and quality control is an important part of the project and all aspiring community technicians must pass a NZQA-approved course, whihc has been specially designed by Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology to certify community technicians.

Technicians' tuition fees are being met by the Ministry of Education and participating schools also get assistance from the ministry.

Several IT vendors are supporting the project with equipment, including Vodafone, Telecom, IBM, Renaissance and Microsoft.

The project is being audited by an independent research company and participating schools are also required to report on the progress of the scheme.

Our second finalist is South Island-based Maori iwi, Te Runanaga o Ngai Tahu, which is using the internet and mobile phone networks to boost the profile of its language among iwi members.

Its language and community portal, www.kmkreo.maori.nz, has several thousand members and the iwi aims to extend it to more than 35,000 members worldwide.

The portal includes a learning zone, a cellphone area for members with WAP-enabled phones to interact with the site, a PDA site, an information area and an electronic library.

Nearly all Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu members have cellphone access and 75% have access either to a PC or PDA. The few who don't have computer access are being catered for by a Computers in Homes programme, which has so far seen PCs placed with families in two towns.

Our third finalist is the Ministry of Education's Early Notification System, which is achieving significant results in its goal of reducing school truancy rates. The system uses a combination of technology from Renaissance's education division, Itas, and the Fulcrum Technology Group.

Itas' Integris student management system and Fulcrum's messaging product, Safe@School, have been integrated to produce a system which alerts parents by voice or email if their child doesn't turn up at school.

The two companies worked with the ministry to define an XML schema that defines how data sent between the two applications will be formatted. The system has also been designed to work both with those schools which have only a basic IT infrastructure and those that are better equipped.

The system is already working well, with one high school seeing a drop in truancy in the first week of use of the system, from 140 unexplained absences on the first day of use to, approximately, 20 by the fourth day. The system is based on open standards, so can be integrated with any student management system.

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