Aotearoa innovation that started in Oamaru solves big education problems

 |   Microsoft NZ News Centre

As previously published on

Two former Papakaio School students plant the seed of an idea that will change the lives of Aotearoa children.

In 2017, Papakaio School in rural North Otago celebrated its 150th anniversary. On that day, two former students, Gloria Hurst and Michael Trengrove, planted the seed of an idea that will change the lives of thousands of Aotearoa children: the Electric Garden.

Fifteen years earlier, Gloria had set about understanding the disenfranchised youth who hung around the Oamaru Courthouse. After listening to their stories, she opened her home garden to local children. Their positive reaction to being in nature inspired the Waitaki Community Gardens Trust. Michael Trengrove, a former disenfranchised kid, was now the General Manager of Code Club Aotearoa. During the speeches at the Papakaio anniversary, Gloria and Michael reconnected and brought their areas of expertise together: nature-based wellbeing and digital tech education.

The result is the Electric Garden – a hands-on, Internet of Things (IoT) solution to help schools deliver the new Digital Technology curriculum. Using the Electric Garden, children install wireless sensors in their school garden, and gather and monitor data through an online portal. This results in more than giant pumpkins! The Electric Garden supports digital learning, develops gardening knowledge, and promotes wellbeing by the children spending time in nature.

Since that first conversation at Papakaio School, the project has received close to quarter of a million dollars of funding from Microsoft Philanthropies, The Spark Foundation and Verizon Connect. Since late October, 200 teachers from 75 South Island schools received their own Electric Garden, training, learning resources and lesson plans, and ongoing technical support. Once the 2018 pilot is complete, the Electric Garden will be rolled out to the rest of Aotearoa. The mission: to give every child the opportunity to learn to code and play in nature, no matter who or where they are.

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