Attracting students to digital technology and electronics is key to training the technologists, engineers and scientists of the future, however the reality in our fast-changing world is that capacity in the secondary school sector does not always meet demand in these specialist areas.

Christchurch Boys’ High School (CBHS) and Papanui High School have recently experienced difficulties finding and maintaining teachers to deliver the curriculum in these subjects, so approached Ara Institute of Canterbury for assistance.

Papanui High School had run an electronics option class for some 10 years, but in 2015 the teacher returned to the United Kingdom.

Careers advisor Ellen Cashion says for the rest of 2015, students were taught by relievers, none of whom were suitable for one reason or another to continue.

The school has struggled to replace the electronics teacher, but like CBHS, who could not find a suitable digital technology teacher in recent years, has seen the importance of offering these subjects.

“We advertised worldwide but could not find a suitable teacher - other schools did the same and decided to can electronics, Cashion says.

Papanui High was reluctant to get rid of the subject, so approached Emma West (then Youth Pathways manager at Ara), and the school and Institute agreed to a process by which Ara delivered the teaching.

Christchurch Boys’ High School also joined in the collaboration, and because of the agreement, Ara computing tutor Josh Hough started delivering the programme last year - two classes a week at the specialist facilities at Ara and two classes a week at the schools.

One class of supervised self-study per week completes the programme.

Students from both schools have already provided positive feedback on Hough’s tutoring. 

Careers advisor at CBHS Richard Webster says the increase in demand for the programme this year is proof of its success.

“The student feedback and re-enrolments speak for themselves with 38 out of the 43 opting to select the Level 3 digital technologies computing course this year,” Webster says.

Hough not only brings specialist computing skills to the table, but also excellent communication, and the motivation to go the extra mile to help students succeed - he attends parent interviews and holds extra sessions when students needed them.

At Papanui High School, students have been succeeding in the programme, but also learning about tertiary training options, gaining insight into the industries, and setting up future work experience.

There are many advantages of collaboration according to Cashion.

“Ara has excellent teachers who are highly qualified specialists, students get to spend time at Ara developing confidence and knowledge about future pathways, students have the opportunity to work individually on robotic projects, manage their own learning and use far superior facilities than we could offer,” she says.

By tutors coming into schools, they are more aware of the level of students leaving school and this must assist in the development of appropriate first year full-time courses at Ara, she adds.

This year CBHS and Ara will run two digital technologies Year 12 programmes, two Year 13 programmes and will introduce a Year 12 electronics class.

The Year 13 programmes are being taught by both Ara and University of Canterbury, giving students a valuable insight into tertiary life at both institutions, which will inform planning for their future study and career paths.