The issue of digital devices in the lower year levels continues to be robustly debated both here and abroad with views being put forward representing the full breadth of the continuum. Rex was of the firm opinion that there is very little need for students below the age of 9 or 10 (Year 5) to be 1:1 in terms of devices. In support of Rex's viewpoint, significant research has found that while limited exposure to devices in the first years of school has some benefit, the greatest benefits exponentially occur once the students have established strong core learning and social habits and competencies, and in most cases from Year 5 onwards. In my dual roles of father to two young boys and lead of Aorere Digital, I likewise see the benefits of some exposure at a young age but also want primary school students to experience learning outside the classroom, with physcial materials and with and from each other. I would be pedagogically and personally horrified to hear of any school that promotes 1:1 BYOD use from the onset of primary school education. In many cases such as in my sons' experiences, they get sufficient exposure to devices at home and in their future years will get plenty of exposure both in the home and at school.
We talked to Rex about our stance that all students at our school are expected to have their own device for student learning and that we strongly recommend Chromebooks being a GAFE school. We were pleasantly surprised when he made the point that many of the students at his school had cellphones and in many cases were already highly adept at using them in the classroom and beyond for effective learning. When we informed him that from 2017 onwards, digital devices (with minimum specifications) would be on the stationery lists for all students, he was in strong agreement. To be honest, he resolutely emphasised the need not to judge the community in terms of capability or affordability, in his words "this community is very aspirational for their children and they want the best education for their children and as a result are prepared to invest in this education." Rex's affirming stance was very powerful and reminded us to be very careful to look through the parents' eyes in terms of what we were trying to achieve with the digitisation of the Aorere College community now and going forward.
Rex's affirmations here also reminded us that whether we like it or not, we as educators in Papatoetoe are highly trusted by the immediate community at all times and trusted to do what is right for our constituents now and in and for the future. A day on and I now believe more now than ever that affordability issues can never get in the way of ensuring that our students and indeed Rex's should have the same opportunity if not more than other students in New Zealand. In order to justify the faith our educational community has in us, we have to do whatever-it-takes to achieve 1:1 BOYD in our school as safely but as quickly as possible. To this end, I have never been a fan of year-by-year roll-outs in terms of effective learning innovations. I believe this creates unnecessary delay and often unnecessary confusion for teachers, students and parents. If a sufficient evidence base exists to go whole school, why wait? To me, it just doesn't make sense personally or professionally.
The other very powerful learning that was reinforced by Rex's visit was that at Aorere College, our digital journey is not just about improving learning and achievement but something much, much bigger, improving the students and their families' lives and futures. The great thing about digital is that it's pretty easy to see if the community believes in what you're doing. Like it or not, digital statistics speak volumes. A case-in-point is our Aorere College smartphone app that we pushed out on iOS and Play platforms in August last year in an effort to enhance and improve school-home contact and communication. Today we reached 2700 downloads, an awesome number for a school of 1500 students. In this case, we built it and they came, the students and their parents! What is most surprising is that when we launched the app, it's fair to say we had a few detractors. Thankfully we listened to our students and their needs and the rest as they say is history.
Rex Buckley's visit to Aorere College was a very powerful reminder that in order to grow our digital platform as effectively as possible, we cannot underestimate our community or fail to look through their eyes. They are our community, we are their school and as a result, through partnership, transparency and communication, we will not achieve just now and not only locally but in the future and on a global level. This need for collaborative effectiveness reminds me of the quote "It takes a village to raise a child." Now more than ever, it does, it so does!