Turbo-Charging Tairāwhiti Technology Take-Up

Lytton High School students demonstrating Auto-CAD to Ilminster Intermediate students at Tairāwhiti Techxpo 2012.

I recently visited two initiatives in Auckland to look at what they are doing with young people and technology. At Point England School in Glen Innes students all have their own NetBook, each family pays $3.50 per week for the child to have their own device for school and home work. At Clubhouse 274 in Otara I visited the Community Technology Centre where students go after school to use high-end equipment they can’t access at home and many were working on commercial projects.

Recently a number of local people and projects have converged to progress some exciting technology opportunities for the district that are already having positive social and economic outcomes, but more support is urgently required.

Tairawhiti Techxpo was a great day last week that provided a solid foundation for a bigger and better event next year. Thanks to the schools that participated, we had hundreds of young people get a taste of employment and career opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology sectors of robotics, hardware, networking, software, app development, entertainment, aerospace, imaging, animation and computer-aided-design industries.

Thanks must also go to the generous sponsors including Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, EIT Tairāwhiti, Eastland Community Trust and the small businesses and individuals that contributed on the day and through the event organising.

One of the Techxpo keynote speakers from Wellington joined the monthly Gizzy Geeks meeting in the evening. Nathalie Whitaker is a net entrepreneur and is keen to move to Gisborne with a number of her colleagues, the lifestyle, surf and clean environment are what attract them. Something that would make Tairawhiti even more appealing to these IT entrepreneurs is for Gisborne to have a bunch of competent geeks who can do the technical programming work that sits behind the software products Nathalie and her friends develop.

What the Techxpo highlighted was that our high schools are now growing such talent locally. Lytton High School had a large contingent of IT experts and Gisborne Girls’ High School and Campion College were also very well represented in the demonstrations provided by students. Other schools have already booked a spot for next year to showcase the skills and products being developed through cutting-edge teaching and learning.

A number of Gisborne school students are now making and selling smartphone apps internationally – this is a $40billion global market with over 10 billion downloads last year alone.

The Rangitawaea Nati Awards next week is an annual fixture that encourages and recognises IT talent in Ngati Porou schools, another fabulous showcase of skills and creativity grown in our region and reaching out to the world.

The Techxpo, the Gizzy Geeks group, the Nati Awards and the new Tairāwhiti Computer Hub Trust have proved a fertile ground for collaboration between technology specialists and a number of exciting new business opportunities are emerging from the relationships built around particular skills, interests and networks.

And where does all this sit in terms of regional economic development planning? It is dismissed in the Regional Economic Development Strategy (2009) as an unlikely prospect and rendered invisible in the subsequent Economic Development Action Plan. Perhaps this absence is not a big issue considering the Action Plan has been largely ignored from the day it was produced.

What is important is that the IT sector is recognised as a cornerstone of every local business and that it is factored into the priorities of entities like the Eastland Community Trust and Gisborne District Council that have a focus on supporting sustainable economic development. While public entities ‘don’t pick winners’, they do provide limitations and opportunities for the expansion of particular industries.

We need to look urgently at what infrastructure beyond Ultrafast Broadband will enable a fledgling IT sector to quickly become a serious economic driver for our local communities. Neighbourhood computer hubs, low-cost residential wi-fi and a commercial programming academy seem sensible ideas to explore.

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