How and why OMGTech! is bringing digital education to underserved Kiwi communities
Vivian Chandra recalls her recent experience at Manurewa Intermediate, where she was running OMGTech’s Unplugged workshop for children, alongside volunteers from Microsoft.
“Using nothing but whiteboards and paper, we transformed the kids into wet-ware computers,” says Chandra, a technology advisor who is also a CTO for OMGTech!
“We were teaching all about peripherals, inputs, outputs, GPU and CPU all without needing a single piece of digital technology.”
But for Chandra, what stood out was when “a year seven girl, who previously had issues engaging with maths class, asked for additional resources to take home to keep on going!”
“You don’t really know tech, until you’ve explained it to a kid who’s never played with it before,” says Chandra.
It is this experience that is prompting her to call on her ICT colleagues – CIOs, CTOs, and other leaders of technology companies – to ensure Kiwi children, especially those coming from underserved communities, will have these types of experiences with technology.
“OMGTech! Is looking for partners that want to sign up to take part and join the likes of Spark, Microsoft, and Xero who have already committed to the initiative,” says Chandra, who was also head of ICT at Amnesty International NZ for 10 years.
The workshops cover a range of technology topics such as robotics, electronics, 3D printing and coding, she says. “We aim to create New Zealand’s first generation of digital natives to become tech leaders in creating and deploying technologies we can’t even imagine yet.”
She says OMGTech! trialed the programme last week, holding workshops in five Auckland schools giving hands-on future technology workshops.
The schools include Pt England Primary School, Manurewa Intermediate, Bailey Road School, Reremoana School and Te Kura Māori o Waatea.
Microsoft provided 21 volunteers for the day, and the group talked to over 400 children in one day, says Chandra.
She says OMG will officially launch the programme during Hour of Code week, December 4 to 10, with workshops being offered in schools around the country.
“OMGTech! wants to help enable our tamariki to be creators with technology not just consumers of technology,” says OMGTech! co-founder Zoe Timbrell.
But cost is a major factor for a number of schools that would like to participate in their workshops, says Timbrell. “Access to future technologies can be expensive and out of reach for many so being able to bring our workshops directly into schools allows us to reach a much larger group of kids.
“Understanding how it all works will be a fundamental requirement to participation in society in the future. It’s important to become a digital citizen not just from a job creation point of view but from a societal one. Our kids will be using technology to shape their world in the future.”
Timbrell says by partnering with major technology companies, OMGTech! is able to deliver its programmes directly into schools.
“This allows the children to spend time with, and hear stories, from people who are working in the technology sector. The lessons are designed by OMGTech! and the company volunteers work with groups of students in school to deliver them,” she says.
“Participating children learn valuable technology skills as well as understanding future pathways they otherwise might not encounter.”
Mark Beder, chief operating officer at Spark, says the workshops are a great fit with Spark’s volunteer programme. “Spark people love technology and sharing that passion and we’re looking forward to having our people help deliver these workshops.”
“The technology sector is our third largest export sector and the creative technology sector is growing fast as well with the film, music and game design industries all flourishing,” says Vaughan Rowsell, co-Founder of OMGTech!
“These industries are creating the jobs of the future,” says Rowsell. “They have a strong role to play in helping to upskill the next generation and this programme allows them to work directly with schools to inspire the next generation.”
Vaughan, who is also the founder of Vend,and vice chair of the New Zealand High Tech Trust, says, “It is important that we ensure every Kiwi kid has access to future technologies… We need to ensure that we are focusing on getting digital education to into our underserved communities.”
“If New Zealand is to become a world leader in technology, we need to ensure all our kids have equity of access and our teachers have the right support to help deliver on that vision,” he concludes.