Curran sceptical of Govt handling N4L

Last updated 10:51 23/11/2012
N4L
NETWORK FOR LEARNING: Screenshot from the N4L website.

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Labour communications spokeswoman Clare Curran says she has concerns about the Government's ability to oversee its flagship education technology initiative, the Network for Learning, given the Novopay school payroll debacle.

N4L, the new Crown-owned company that will run the $440 million Network for Learning, is taking shape, with the appointment yesterday of a chief executive to head what will become a team of 40 staff in Auckland and Wellington.

The Network for Learning is a closed educational network that will run on top of the ultrafast broadband network, fibre laid as a result of the Rural Broadband Initiative, and existing copper-wire broadband.

Chairwoman Helen Robinson said it was designed to provide "safe and secure" access to online educational resources, software applications and a secure gateway to the wider internet for the country's 2600 schools.

Curran said the "jury was out" on the initiative but Novopay hadn't filled anyone with confidence about the Education Ministry or Education Minister Hekia Parata ability to deal with technology.

Parliament's education and science select committee is currently finishing off an inquiry into "21st century learning environments and digital literacy".

Curran said those in the education sector who had made submissions to the committee appeared to have little insight into what the Network for Learning was or how it would operate.

Robinson said the Government was to be credited for setting up a separate company to manage the service.

N4L currently employs about 10 staff, but is recruiting. John Hanna, formerly chief executive of Auckland information technology firm Maxnet, will become its chief executive on December 3.

Robinson said one of Hanna's first jobs would be to announce which internet providers had successfully tendered to connect schools to ultrafast broadband, with those services due to be in place by April. She would not comment on rumours that Telecom's Gen-i had already been selected for the job.

N4L reports to Parata and Finance Minister Bill English. Robinson said the $440m the Government had earmarked for the service over 10 years included the cost of providing its educational resources and applications.

Robinson said it would provide applications such as video-conferencing and Google Apps to schools. However, she said it yet to be decided how online educational resources would be accredited to be hosted on the network.

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A "top-down" model might entail a single body taking responsibility for deciding what resources should be made available on the network, while a "bottom-up" approach might allow individual teachers and even schoolchildren to upload their own content so it could be accessed by others.

"We are working through what the best approach is," Robinson said. "But the end users themselves - kids and teachers - have a big role to play in terms of 'what's in and what's out'."

N4L was close to deciding what would be available on the Network for Learning at launch in April, but the network would be "iterative", she said.

The original concept was that the Network for Learning would help schools make the most of ultrafast broadband but Robinson said N4L recognised schools would want to access many of the resources it provided even if they only had slower copper-based broadband connections.

Schools should be able deal only with N4L from April and would not need to independently contract with internet providers outside of the Network for Learning, she said.

- The Dominion Post

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