'Cyberwaka' pushed out on East Cape

Te Kaha school equipped with notebook computers, networking gear and course materials

The creator of a networking training school launched this month at Te Kaha hopes to persuade the government to back similar efforts elsewhere.

Riki Gage, who heads the Te Runanga O Te Whanau tribal authority, says he'll be "knocking on Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia's door" to talk to him about replicating the Te Kaha school in other parts of the country.

Gage believes the school can help close the economic gap between Maori and Pacific Islanders and the rest of New Zealand.

"The gap, to me, is as much a digital gap," says Gage, who has helped establish the Cyberwaka Enterprises Cisco Networking Academy in the East Cape settlement. It's a collaboration between the East Cape Te Whanau A Apanui tribe, the Pacific Islands Matati E Fa Trust of Auckland, and Cisco. It will provide 280-hour vocational training in computer and networking fundamentals for secondary and tertiary students.

Using $50,000 earned through the tribe's commercial crayfishing activities, Cyberwaka Enterprises has equipped the school with notebook computers, while Cisco is chipping in with networking gear and course materials worth a similar amount.

Gage foresees a day when "you'll have people round the back of the marae cutting up meat and talking about IP addresses".

Progress toward that time has begun with the first intake of students at the school. About 10 secondary teachers and others are being trained as instructors to enable them to teach the course in schools on the East Cape, Porirua and Auckland.

One of the first students is File Timoteo, a director of the Matati E Fa Trust and a Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs employee. Timoteo believes investing in such training will have a long-term payback.

"We're having to move from being an agricultural economy to being part of a global market," he says, and need to work out how to survive the transition. One way is to help people into IT jobs, he believes. "The amount of work in this area is incredible."

The minister, who officiated at the school's opening, declared himself a "strong advocate, along with my government, of getting into modern technology". He believes the process should happen "from the bottom up", in the manner of the Te Kaha school.

"In modern-day society, Maori need to go forward. The cyberwaka is very important to us; it's critical that Maori get into it and start rowing."

Cisco New Zealand manager Tim Hemingway says the school is the 10th "academy" established by the company in New Zealand. He says the company is motivated to help train people to work in the burgeoning internet industry, in which there is a growing skills shortage.

His personal motivation for backing the Te Kaha venture is his belief that education and the internet are equalisers in society.