Government chooses Whitireia to deliver national digital literacy initiative

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Whitireia Community Polytechnic’s proven ability to respond to community training needs and its successful involvement in other ICT initiatives are behind the Government’s selection of Whitireia to deliver a new national IT skills training programme, says chief executive Deirdre Dale.

The new 'train the trainers' IT skills programme announced today (subs: May 16) forms part of the Government’s Digital Strategy, and is a public-private collaboration between the Government and Microsoft. The programme will be run through the soon to be established New Zealand Unlimited Potential Learning Foundation. It will be funded through a Microsoft grant of $350,000, with $100,000 support from the Government.

The national initiative follows successful pilot trials of the Unlimited Potential Learning curriculum run in Helensville and South Dunedin last year.

"This is great news for Whitireia. It confirms our reputation for listening to and understanding the different needs and learning styles of various communities and then developing foundational IT skills programmes in response to those needs that make a positive difference to these community members’ potential," says Trish Brimblecombe, the associate dean of the polytechnic’s Faculty of Business and Information Technology.

"It’s also a wonderful opportunity for New Zealand to lift essential skills in a way that is affordable," she said. "People need IT skills to take a full part in today’s world and most jobs today also require some degree of IT skill."

Whitireia will lead the delivery of five week-long programmes to around 125 trainers over the next two years. The programmes will be based on Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Community Learning Curriculum and developed by Whitireia in consultation with community groups. The 125 trainers will return to their communities and, with online back-up support, use their new skills to train others. The target is to reach within the next two years, at least 4,100 people who currently have limited, or no IT skills.

Trish Brimblecombe said community-level training will be supported in as many as 125 Community-based Technology and Learning Centres, or e-centres. These rural and urban e-centres can comprise anything from small groups meeting in libraries or schools with access to computers, to adult learning centres, churches, marae, youth clubs and community centres.

"This is a very organic, bottom-up initiative. Microsoft is not funding hardware, but is supporting training for people who will then make these e-centres really work in their communities."

However, trainers in the programme will be able to apply for software donations from Microsoft – to an expected value of $2 million over two years – to build the technology capacity of their centres.

Trish Brimblecombe said the next step will be to seek input from communities on the format and content of the training course, with support from the Unlimited Potential Learning Foundation Advisory Board.