The Loop is Launched


I had the privilege of attending the official launch of the “Nelson Loop” at Nayland College today. The library was filled with a range of people, all of whom had a connection in some way or other in making the ‘Loop’ a reality – including policy makers, technicians, network experts, government reps etc.

Photos above show (left to right) Nayland Principal, Charles Newton welcoming the group; NZ ICT icons Murray Brown, Carol Moffatt and Marg McLeod; Nayland students taking advantage of the high speed connection; and Minister of Education, Steve Maharey, addressing the crowd.

In his speech Minister Maharey spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of advanced networks such as the ‘Loop’, describing ways in which, when used appropriately, these could support the personalising of learning, and contribute to NZ’s goals of becoming a knowledge society. He referred to the goal of having all of these regional loops linked to the KAREN network, enabling a high-speed connection across the whole of NZ in the form of a National Education Network.

All of this rings true with me – I’m a self-confessed enthusiast for the benefits these advanced networks can bring – but I am also concerned. I am concerned that, amid the hype and enthusiasm for this sort of thing we are in grave danger of trivialising the true costs involved in establishing these networks. It’s one thing to have established a national backbone (KAREN), and another to create local loops such as has been achieved in Nelson. But the story doesn’t end there. there’s still the issue of connecting schools to the fibre networks (not a trivial expense), and then, assuming that that is a straight forward task, there is the state of the internal networks in schools, most of which simply won’t have a robust enough infrastructure to cope with the significantly increased network speeds.

And as if that’s not enough – having made the physical connections and paid for these one-off installation costs, there is the cost of ongoing operation of these networks – the ISP connections, service access, security etc. etc.

I have two main concerns about this currently. In all cases in NZ at the moment, the development of these ‘local loops’ (urban fibre networks etc) is being achieved through various school/business/government partnerships – generally with a key business sponsor providing the seed-funding for the initial group of schools connecting. This reveals my first concern – the general lack of a plan for sustainability or scalability beyond the initial pilot. Without such a plan we are in grave danger of things stalling – and at worst, with a few privileged schools connected and the rest without the opportunity.

My second concern relates to the fact that, with so much of the current effort going into the development of these loops being made voluntarily or without costs, it is difficult to establish exactly what the actual cost is for connecting a school to such a network. As it stands I fear we are in grave danger of under-estimating this cost. In the meantime, those schools that happen to be lucky enough to be close to a fibre loop, and who have the voluntary support of sufficiently skilled and knowledgeable personnel will achieve connection – while those who don’t, won’t. Simple as that.

If we’re to be genuinely committed to seeing NZ as a knowledge society participating fully in the global economy, with New Zealand school students being prepared with digital age skills and dispositions, then we need to ensure that we have the ‘bigger picture’ in mind as we’re developing these local pilots.

6 thoughts on “The Loop is Launched

  1. As someone teaching outside the loop (even outside the in progress Christchurch loop) (what is happening with that btw?) I am greatly encouraged to see these words from you Derek. So many schools will so easily be left behind unless some serious money and some wise planning are provided. We still have a computer in our room running windows 95!!!! Now that Telecom are pulling the funding plug and the MOE is still not providing anything remotely like enough money for schools to access equipment and services I can only see the gap between have and have not schools getting bigger. Maybe it is time for a funding round like the ICT PD that enables schools to spend money on equipment. It could be made available to schools who have shown a commitment to ICT professional development by having participated in an ICT PD cluster. 🙂

  2. Good point Derek! To me this is a little like the DigiOps projects where schools are able to get funding to equip during the duration of the project and are then left to try and find a way to sustain this afterwards. I like Paul’s thoughts on a funding round to help schools that have shown a commitment to ICTPD.

  3. Interesting comments, I find parallels can be drawn between much of the “way forward” proposed by the Ministry and the “Glow” approach taken in Scotland- a “National Intranet” for schools- a country geographically very similar to ours.
    Albeit via a broadband network- bearing in mind the advantages of fibre, do they outweigh the costs of upgrading networks in schools and connecting to the proposed fibre networks? I say bring the broadband into the 21st century and offer plans at 10+mbs and why would we need to invest 100’s of millions in fibre? We could use the money we saved to back a network similar to the Scottish model, targetting the money on kids learning and teacher support instead of over engineering our network.
    If the MOE would shout me a sabbatical I would selflessly go over to Scotland and find out more….!

  4. I am really only writing to indicate agreement with Derek’s thoughts.

    I have had 10mb capacity between my schools for some years, and haven’t seen any inter-school use of network that would cause the schools to pay the necessary money for the ongoing operation of the network.

    Of late I have been quietly asking people for examples of educational outcomes that loops have enabled, that wouldn’t have been able to met through good access to the public internet. I haven’t really heard any good answers.

    I agree entirely with the notion that loops are being sponsored by business who have a commercial aim (One example is the idea of giving service to schools to assist with the resource consent process to deploy infrastructure). Just as schools haven’t built up their operating budget to accomodate internal infrastructure (because of freebies), again they are not being exposed to the real cost of external connectivity.

    I do not believe the answer lies in bigger budgets, rather in a different approach to IT management. I believe that the Nelson Loop’s greatest accomplishment has nothing to do with technology, but is their example of what can be achieved by a group of schools combining their efforts in the infrastructure space.

  5. Good one Derek. Totally relevant and to the point. I want to explore the notion that funding for these essential facilities shouldnt necessarily come from vote education alone. Heard a great story about the local farmers and community coming to Bridgewater School after school hours to carry out necessary business over the bandwidth. I believe we have to “connect to bring change”. (EM Forster the writer was on about this too!) The pay off from fibre loops is not just educational: it is about the growth of communities and economies. We need all government sectors as well as local and national business’s backing in these ventures. How do we get them to see the big picture we can see?

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