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Digital skills project gets under way

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A husband-and-wife team is driving a marae-based digital skills project in Glenbervie, and has started teaching at a Whangarei high school.

IT experts, Luke Tomes and Tema Kwan Fenton-Coyne, are job-sharing the position of Research Educator at Pehiaweri Marae - the result of a unique collaboration between the marae and NorthTec.

They are currently carrying out two strands of work simultaneously, undertaking a comprehensive needs analysis in the community while also creating learning programmes.

They have started running pilot digital workshops at Kamo High School, as well as classes in computer coding at the marae.

Luke and Tema were employed following a successful bid for funding, made jointly by NorthTec and Pehiaweri Marae, from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Te PÅ«naha Hihiko - Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund. The fund aims to unlock the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people for the benefit of New Zealand.

The couple bring to the role a unique mix of digital expertise combined with cultural knowledge.

Luke, from Auckland, has a strong track record in computer game development and e-learning. Tema has film and television experience in New Zealand and overseas and a background in kaupapa Māori performing arts, and Pehiaweri is her marae. Both have previously worked in app development, including Te Reo Māori iPad apps.

They are now using their extensive technical skills to work with school students, and are bringing together the corporate computing and Māori worlds through their work on the marae.

This term they have started working with Kamo High School students in years 9 and 10, to prepare them for the start of curriculum classes in digital technologies in year 11.

Luke said they are enjoying harnessing the natural ability of school students to learn digital skills: "From visiting the schools we have found that the students have a great foundation and are very keen to learn more complex skills like coding and app development."

They will use Raspberry Pi technology - affordable, credit card-sized microcomputers - to teach networking, coding and digital tikanga to school students and members of the marae community. Networking relates to how computers work and how they can be hooked up to other devices, and is strongly linked to the ability to code.

When it comes to coding, says Luke, "Our initial research is showing that kids can understand computers much more easily than adults. You can throw them straight in and they will benefit from it. We want to make it project-based so they have an outcome. With Raspberry Pis they have a tangible, fun environment to make things."

As well as running programmes with NorthTec, the couple are building up a coding club at Pehiaweri Marae which will be run in an informal style based on kaupapa Māori.

Tema said: "It is a big change, from corporate computing to community learning in the Māori world. The way in which we will be running these marae-based programmes is unique because we will teach via wananga and hui rather than standing in front of the class - it’s more about facilitating learning. "We will be pairing up kaumatua and rangatahi, so they can teach each other - the kids know how to do stuff on the computer but may not have the maturity to make good judgements over what they are seeing online."

Both praised their NorthTec-based mentors, IT tutor, Johan Scholtz, and Research Coordinator, Lavinia Tamarua, for the support and guidance they have provided.

The project is part of NorthTec’s regional research initiatives, aimed at developing skills and sustainable employment in research enterprise in Northland.

Anyone who is interested in attending the programmes or assisting with research should contact

NorthTec is the Tai Tokerau (Northland) region's largest provider of tertiary education, with campuses and learning centres in Whangarei, Kerikeri, Rāwene, Kaikohe and Kaitaia. NorthTec also has over 60 community-based delivery points from Coatesville in rural Rodney to Ngataki in the Far North.

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