A state-of-the-art information and communication technology network is being set up in schools throughout Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes. Rosie Manins talks to those responsible for the project. Schools are using computer technology more than ever, and those in Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes are ahead of most following an upgrade spearheaded by a $2.1 million Central Lakes Trust grant. All 24 schools within the trust's geographic area have received an upgrade of existing information and communication technology (ICT) facilities as well as connection to a high-speed wireless network. Mt Aspiring College and Logan Park High School are also involved in a trial to connect schools with a centralised computer server in Dunedin which would connect all schools targeted by the project. Central Lakes Trust chief executive officer Paul Allison said the project started about three years ago when the trust formed a vision to see schools in its patch use the best computer technology. The trust committed $2.1 million to realising that vision, the largest grant made for a single project in the trust's eight-year history and its first in excess of $2 million. Funding was allocated in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 financial years. Most went to upgrading school facilities, with $1.5 million for new and improved equipment and a further $300,000 for wireless installation and connection. Collectively, the schools involved contributed about $400,000 for the upgrade. The balance is being used for a professional development programme to train teachers and school staff in how to best use the technology, as well as for investment in the server trial. Allison said the trust's vision extended to seeing upgrades utilised, which was where the trial came in. Government funding for upgraded ICT in rural schools throughout New Zealand had not been fast enough for the trust, he said. This week, the Government announced a $300 million rural broadband project which would see 93% of rural schools receive fibre in the next six years, although funding has yet to be committed to the project. Entering the field of cutting-edge technology meant the trust had to seek advice. Former principal Charles Newton was chosen as a mentor because of his long-term involvement in schools and the upgrading of ICT.