SLENZ Update, No 146, October 27, 2009

Australasia’s first “complete” virtual school

South Island  schools  to take  trade

training to  the world – virtually

schoolscreengrabs_01A New Zealand Virtual School classroom developed by SmallWorlds.

A group of  South Island, New Zealand, secondary schools, with training partnerships and associations nationally,  is to establish Australasia’s first  virtual,  online school,  New Zealand Virtual School.

To open in 2011 it will  cater for Year 9 to 13 children and adults from across the country and around the world.

The group,  which is already running a “pilot” virtual aviation programme with students from across the country and as far away as Africa,  has been named by the Minister of Education, Ann Tolley, as one of five  successful applicants from a field of 113 to become  New Zealand’s first trade academies. The other successful trade academy applicants were: Northland College; the Wellington Institute of Technology; the Taratahi Agricultural Centre; and a partnership between the Waikato Institute of Technology and Cambridge High School.

The Catlins Area School’s bid in  conjunction with  South Otago High School, Tokomairo High School, Blue Mountain College and Telford Rural Polytechnic,  was the only application accepted from the South Island but it  will provide the only fully virtual, computer-based “trade academy” service throughout the country, using Skype, specifically-developed 3D graphics from New Zealand -based SmallWorlds – a  virtual world that runs inside a web browser; combining media, web content, and casual games, created by  Auckland’s  Outsmart – podcasts, video conferencing, specialised MMORPGs and other online features.

Others associated with the New Zealand Virtual School include 10  Industry Training Organisations (ITOs), among them AgITO, ESITO, ATTTO, JITO, MITO, Creative trades iTO, GlobalMet, InfraTrain NZ, and EXITO, as well as Enterprise Clutha and Air Fiordland.

New Zealand Virtual School  project  manager Allan Asbjorn Jon,  the Deputy Principal, eLearning and International Student Director at the Catlins Area School told the Southland Times “We now have the opportunity, here in Southland and Otago, to be at the forefront of the virtual movement in New Zealand. It could become a very big educational project in Australasia.

“We are trying to put together a platform to assist young people more towards trade training and trade careers with greater ease.”

Funding on per student basis

Noting that the project, which he has spent many months on, was still evolving Jon said that the governance, structure and  final funding  decisions would be made during discussions with the New Zealand Education Ministry  scheduled to take place on November 4. It is presumed funding would be on a per student basis.

Under the NZVS programme students will get three days virtual study and work placements  for up to two days a week so they can also learn “hands-on”. They will also be able to participate in “block camps” likely to be run at RNZAF bases in both the north and south islands. The RNZAF, according to Jon, has been very supportive of the project.

Jon said programmes were being developed across a wide range of subjects including aviation, tourism, travel and museum studies, joinery and glasswork, stonemasonry, painting and decorating, automotive, mining and drilling and civil engineering. Courses will also cover entire NCEA qualifications including  English and maths.

The virtual school (Facebook link here), he said, had the benefit of being able to cater for the needs of an individual – programmes could  be designed specifically for them.

Classes begin 2011

Although a pilot programme has been running with  about  70 students, enrolments for the new school will be opened  towards the end of next year with the first classes to  begin in early 2011.

Announcing the virtual school choice as a trade academy, Mrs Tolley said every student should have an education system which worked for them and met their needs: the New Zealand Virtual School based in the Catlins would help deliver that.

“Trades academies are part of the Government’s Youth Guarantee programme,” she said in a statement. “They’ll provide more career choices for 16- and 17-year-olds and give them greater opportunities to develop their knowledge, skills and talents through trades and technology programmes.”

Six other proposals from around the country are still to be developed with a view to them also becoming trades academies.


The NZVS team: Front: Gavin Kidd, Principal, The Catlins Area School, Allan Asbjorn Jon,
Deputy Principal and Project Manager,  NZVS; Wayne Edgar, Principal,  Tokomairiro High
School; Nick Simpson, Principal,  South Otago High School; Back: Dave Evans, Aviation
Industry Training Advisor, ATTTO; and Kevin McSweeney, Principal, Blue Mountain College.