Southland schools in tech race as students return
Southland schools are adapting their environments to cater for waves of "digital natives" flooding the education system with at least one Invercargill school trialling a bring-your-own-device scheme.
As the 2016 school year gets underway this week, technology, classroom environments and transport issues appear to be the hot topics on principals' minds.
Southland Primary Principals' Association president and Ascot Community School principal Wendy Ryan said providing devices for students to use in class such as iPads and computers was a major focus area for schools.
"There's so many online resources," she said.
"Giving equal opportunity to everybody is really important. I think schools are managing it very well, but some schools are doing better than others. It's the ever-changing nature of technology that makes it a real challenge."
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In Invercargill, James Hargest College principal Andy Wood said technology in classrooms was a key focus with the school piloting a bring-your-own-device programme for years 7 and 8 students.
Southland Girls High School principal Yvonne Browning said technology was a key element of her school's curriculum. She said three large year 7 and 8 classrooms had been remodelled to reflect modern learning styles.
"You can't have 21st century learning without digital," she said.
"These girls coming through are digital natives. You've really got to make a conscious effort to turn it into a 21st century, modern learning environment."
At Otatara School principal Sharon Livingstone also recognised technology in classrooms as a hot topic.
Livingstone said there was about a one-to-three ratio of electronic devices to students in the school's senior classrooms, with students using iPads, Macbook Airs and laptops.
Livingstone said other focus areas for the school were e-learning in senior classrooms with Google Apps for Education, having different types of furniture, such as couches, in classrooms to accommodate students' different learning styles, and improving the writing skills and confidence of students.
Ryan said bussing students to the school closest to where they lived was also an ongoing issue.
"Buses have been an issue for a long, long time," she said.
"The taxpayer only funds [bussing] to the nearest school."
Gore High School principal John McKinlay agreed that bussing was a challenge.
"The Ministry [of Education] policy is to bus the student to the nearest school," he said.
"And those areas are called TEZ [Transportation Entitlement Zone]. That's been ignored for many years. It's happening all over Southland. It's not just Gore High School."
Browning said that with girls attending the school from throughout Southland and as far afield as Central Otago, parents often brought up the bussing issue.
"The parents are telling us that they want to choose the school their child goes to," she said.
"It is something we work with the parents on. Parents don't want to live in a particular zone and be told their child has to go to a particular school."
Livingstone said the Otatara School roll would be 273 when students were back on Tuesday, among which were four students from outside the primary school's TEZ.
The issue hit the headlines in Southland last year when Bluff School, and many other primary schools in Southland, decided to prevent year 7 and 8 children from travelling on Ministry of Education-funded buses through their local zones to out-of-zone high schools in 2016.
Upset Bluff parents worked around the problem by working with Southland Boys' High School and Southland Girls' High School to ensure a minivan would take students to those two high schools in 2016.
On Sunday, Southland Boys' High School rector Ian Baldwin said the plan to transport students from Bluff to schools out of their zone was going ahead.
A mini-bus would transport about 12 students, most of whom were going to Southland Girls' High School, along with a couple of boys, Baldwin said.
"We've heard nothing from the ministry regarding its review of that (bus) policy."
The schools would continue to pursue the issue with the Ministry of Education, Baldwin said.
Bluff School principal Alison Cook said her school held its position that it was not denying children their choice of school.
It had never been about choice, Cook said.
"This isn't a big issue for us."
Late last year, an Education Ministry spokesperson said that across New Zealand, seven out of every eight students got to school without any assistance from the ministry.
This included many thousands of students who chose not to go to their local school, and instead go to one some distance away, the spokesperson said.
Excited school starting again
Winton School pupil Jake Green, 8, says he is feeling confident as he prepares to start year 4.
"I'm very excited," he said.
"I like maths. I like doing numbers, the pluses and minuses."
Ten-year-old Angus McRae was looking forward to beginning year 6 at St Thomas's School in Winton.
"I get to see all my friends and see the new teacher," he said.
"I quite like maths, but my favourite thing is P.E."
Eleven-year-old Hayden Elliotte said he was itching to begin year 7 at James Hargest College's junior campus.
"I hope to meet some new friends," he said.
"I like learning new stuff. Maths and writing are my favourites."
As students head back to school, the public is also being reminded to drive safely.
Rural Women New Zealand national president Wendy McGowan said rural children were particularly at risk of being hit by cars.
"Rural children are especially vulnerable when drivers speed past school buses and have been involved in a number of serious and fatal crashes," she said.
"Drivers need to pay attention to the speed limit of 20kmh when passing a bus that has stopped for children."
Ben Mack: @benaroundearth