Electrotechnology programme reaches more students


Following the success of its pilot Electrotechnology programme, Ara Institute of Canterbury opened up the opportunity for more schools to be involved and now runs four classes.

Extending the initiative to more schools

The 2016 pilot programme proved very successful and Ara gained Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project funding to extend it to more schools. Papanui High School is involved again, with 16 Year 12 students in the Level 2 course and 9 Year 13 students doing Level 3. Christchurch Boys’ High School joined the programme and has 16 Year 12 students doing the Level 2 course. The three classes are run along the same model as last year – tutor Pete Wilson teaches two periods a week at school for each group and another two periods at Ara, where students can use the institute’s specialist electronics equipment.

A new multi-school course was introduced to accommodate schools which only have a few students interested. Four students (Years 11-13) – from Haeata Community Campus and Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery – come to Ara for one day each week.

Some students, says Pete, have a specific agenda and are planning to study electrical engineering, while others “tend to go with the flow without any idea of a personal pathway. We have an opportunity to help them develop their own ideas around a career in engineering.”

The programme

The Level 2 course involves familiarising students with the creation of PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards), which includes some soldering, gaining an understanding of basic components and elementary circuits, design analysis and learning about prototyping.

The Level 3 course focuses on logic and microcontrollers – each student creates a prototype, gaining an understanding of what it takes to turn an idea into reality.

Pete, who brings his experience as an engineer and secondary school electronics teacher to the programme, says the work is hands-on and project-based to keep students engaged with what they’re learning. He encourages ‘self-teaching’ via the internet, where they can read about specific aspects of electronics and apply the learning to their own projects, “The whole world of electronics opens up to them.”

“The students work on individual projects but throughout the lesson are helping each other out which resembles how an engineering team would work.” However, he adds, “We have a responsibility towards the students’ general education – this work is valuable even if they don’t go into engineering.”

NCEA credits

Pete assesses the students’ work towards NCEA unit or achievement standards – students can gain up to 20 credits. He attends parent-teacher meetings at each school to discuss his students’ progress and talk about engineering study and career pathways, which parents often don’t know about. Pete also goes to school career events to talk to students and parents about the opportunities available.

Industry visits

Local engineering firms support the programme through hosting site visits. These allow students to see the bigger picture – how the skills they’re learning are used in industry and the variety of potential career opportunities in their community for engineering graduates.

Year 13 students will visit a number of electronic engineering companies over the year. There is already an annual Year 12 event, organised by Ara with Electronics teachers, where students visit local engineering industries. Students doing the Level 2 course will attend this, and possibly go on some additional visits.

Engaging the students

Christchurch Boys’ High School limited the programme to Year 12 students this year, but will open it up to Years 12 and 13 next year so that the current students can continue. Careers Advisor Richard Webster says the programme is brilliant. “Our students are very engaged in class; they like the teaching style and the support they receive. We’d like to provide better facilities at school so that Pete can do more of the practical activities which bring the subject to life.”

The headmaster Nic Hill is very supportive of the initiative and keen to grow it so that more students become aware of the career opportunities beyond school. In their first year with the programme, the school limited participation to Year 12 students. Next year, it will be open to the new Year 12 cohort and the current students can continue with it in Year 13.

Promoting the programme/engineering

Ara continues to promote the Electrotechnology programme – and hopefully some of the Year 9-11 students involved in some of its STEM-related activities will go on to join it. “Our strongest advert is that students are having an enjoyable time – that’s quite powerful in the school environment,” Pete says.

“The only stumbling block is that some parents aren’t keen because Electronics isn’t a core subject and they can’t see the relevance of it. We’re trying to show them that this is a solid subject and a worthwhile career path.” He notes that there’s only one girl in the programme, which means they also need to focus on marketing it to girls and their parents.

While it would be easier if schools were able to deliver their own Electrotechnology course, the strength of doing it this way is that they’re not dependent on one teacher having the expertise and remaining at the school. Another advantage is that Ara can provide the specialist, up-to-date equipment that schools can’t afford to have. 

Read about the pilot Electrotechnology programme

Our thanks to Pete, Richard and Nic for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

May 2017