Thursday September 19, 2002


Pupils at Ngahinapouri School keep in touch with Te Pahu school through their wireless internet link. Picture / Greg Bowker

Project puts rural schools on the net

19.09.2002 - By SIMON COLLINS science reporter

Students as young as 7 at rural schools west of Hamilton are surfing the internet thanks to a pilot project which may be repeated in the South Waikato and then throughout rural New Zealand.

Computer science lecturers at Waikato University have won a $927,000 grant from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology to install a high-speed wireless internet service for eight schools from west of Te Awamutu to Ngaruawahia.

News of the grant comes as expressions of interest closed last week for a Government project, budgeted at "tens of millions of dollars", to subsidise similar high-speed internet services to the country's 2700 schools.

The university trial, Connecting Remote Communities, has already transformed life at Te Pahu School on the foothills of Mt Pirongia, where Prime Minister Helen Clark started school in 1955.

"We used to have two computers on the internet, and we'd put the third one on and they all crashed," said teacher Suzanne Wood. "Now we have 18 computers all on at once and we don't have any problems.

"It used to take up to 45 seconds to a minute just to connect. These computers go through in six or seven seconds."

Chris Goodwin, aged 8, said he found "some really cool stuff" on the Fire Service website, which has a "home-kids" site on safety for children. Jessica Lord, 7, followed the Commonwealth Games site.

Pupils at Ngahinapouri School, 10 minutes closer to Hamilton, used the high-speed internet to play a "where am I?" game with another North Island school. Each week, each school answered three questions such as: "Explain a historical event which has impacted on your community?"

The Connecting Remote Communities project allows Te Pahu and Ngahinapouri, and soon six more schools, to plug into Waikato University's internet service through wireless repeater stations on Mt Pirongia and at other sites.

Computer science lecturer Dr Murray Pearson said the aim was to develop networking protocols and provide a network on which competing equipment providers could demonstrate their gear. The project also includes a study on the social effects of introducing high-speed internet.

The director of the Ministry of Education's Project Probe (Provincial Broadband Extension), Tony van Horik, said the ministry was developing video programs to teach specialised subjects to students at many remote schools, who will all be able to interact with the teacher via high-speed internet.

Connecting Remote Communities Network
Provincial Broadband Extension Project

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