Neuroscience learning tool will enhance student achievement

Louise Karwowski from UK-based company CognAssist was at Ara to train Learning Advisors to use the new framework to further support students with learning challenges.

Louise Karwowski from UK-based company CognAssist was at Ara to train Learning Advisors to use the new framework to further support students with learning challenges.

Having a learning challenge need not be a barrier to study success. Ara Learning Advisors have helped hundreds of students to develop strategies for overcoming their individual challenges. Now the institute is the first in New Zealand to adopt an innovative framework for assessing and addressing learning challenges to ensure every student has the tools to finish their qualification and achieve their employment goals.  

CognAssist is a UK-based organisation established to make the world a more inclusive place by identifying and supporting neurodiverse learners with innovative coping strategies. Founder and CEO Chris Quickfall overcame his own challenges with dyslexia to complete a Mechanical Engineering degree and is passionate about supporting others to succeed too.

 The company’s Head of Client Experience Louise Karwowski is in Christchurch to train Ara’s Learning Advisors to use CognAssist.

“This is a first for New Zealand and a massive opportunity for learners at Ara. Everyone thinks and learns differently and we have seen many learners who had a tough time in education flourish with CognAssist tools.”  

The 30 minute assessment investigates eight cognitive domains that affect thinking and learning. If a learning need is identified, the student receives access to specific CognAssist strategies, which are presented as animations, videos and interactive exercises, and accessed on a computer, mobile phone or tablet at the rate of one per week.  

Each strategy takes up to five minutes to complete and is accompanied with tools to practice in daily life.

 New awareness and understanding of individual neuroscience can lead to life changing improvements.


“For example, you have a student who is always late. You could become frustrated and conclude that that student is just not motivated. Through CognAssist, however, you discover that the student has a problem with executive functioning, or being able to manage and organise themselves effectively.”

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“They have a learning challenge and they might not even know it. CognAssist offers strategies to support the student’s learning and achievement. For the executive function domain for example, using calendars, using checklists, sticking to fixed routines and prioritising tasks can make a huge difference.”

Karwowski was completing a PhD in theoretical chemistry at Manchester University when she began supporting students with learning challenges and discovered a passion for making a difference for those who were struggling with their learning. 

“Initially it came as a surprise to us when we got feedback that CognAssist was not just leading to success in learning but was changing peoples’ lives. People who have always been stressed about learning can now find ways to make it easier to learn and are more confident in themselves.”

Karwowski was impressed with the calibre of knowledge about learning challenges at Ara. “I am delighted that the Ara team now has a sophisticated framework for assessing learners and providing strategies for coping with learning challenges. CognAssist will be a valuable supplementary tool in the advisors’ toolkits to support students even more effectively and to add to the fantastic work they are already doing to support Ara students.”


Defence Force photographer finishes on a high at Ara

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Army sniper turned photographer Sean Spivey is the first recipient of the Advertising and Illustrative Photographers Association (AIPA) Assistant Scholarship.

Awarded to a final year Bachelor of Design (Photography) student at Ara, the scholarship recipient is one Ara photography tutors believe most likely to become a professional commercial photographer in the future.

Sean has already ticked that box. He started taking photos during his eight years with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Infantry and, realising that he wanted to take photos full time, he made a case for the army to enroll him at Ara.

“I thought I could do more as a photographer for the army than I could as a grunt,” he said. “When I was crawling around in the dirt, I thought ‘someone should be photographing this’. It is such an important job. We work so hard. It is really important that general public sees the behind-the-scenes hard work that goes into it for New Zealand, otherwise you only see the bad stuff in the media.”

Sean was originally inspired by the great war photographers. “That’s where it all started – seeing those images and knowing I could be that person.”

However, his inside knowledge of NZDF will gave him a distinct advantage. “Because I went through the infantry ranks I can provide a fresh look, and a new point of view, and get right in there amongst it all, without compromising safety.”

The military life made Sean a disciplined student at Ara. Now a graduate of the degree, Sean has no student debt and a bright future ahead.

Based in Rolleston, Sean will transfer to the Air Force next year and continue to travel around the world; “where ever the guys go, a photographer will need to go with them, even to Antarctica, anywhere they are deployed”.

AIPA Executive Director Aaron K awarded the scholarship to Sean this week at Lightworkx Studio. Sean now has three months of mentoring with an AIPA member, camera equipment and access to the AIPA Assistant Training Workshop.

“Provides me an opportunity to further my skills, that’s the way I look at it, and provide more to Defence as a photographer, plus all the valuable stuff you get from being with other photographers.”


600 school students find pathways to success

Dan Bublik (L) from Shirley Boy’s High School and Alok Chander from Christchurch Boy’s High School study Digital Technologies at school thanks to Ara.

Dan Bublik (L) from Shirley Boy’s High School and Alok Chander from Christchurch Boy’s High School study Digital Technologies at school thanks to Ara.

Ara is working closely with over 50 secondary schools across the region, stretching from Oamaru to Kaikoura, to supplement school subject choices through the Dual Pathway programme.   

The Dual Pathway portfolio contains a range of part time, skills-based courses that offer students alternatives to what is provided at their school. By giving students the option to study specific areas that they are passionate about, it allows them to stay in school while still working towards their career goals.  

“When I came to New Zealand two years ago I couldn’t find anything similar offered [in technology], so I was grateful when I got the opportunity to join the Digital Technologies course,” Alok Chander, a year 13 student from Christchurch Boys’ High School, says. 

Courses offered range from Business Studies, Trade Skills and Hospitality to Digital Technologies and Engineering (a full list of courses is available here). All courses lead into tertiary qualifications to further develop the skills required for specific careers and are fully funded at no extra cost to students.  

Dual Pathways allows students to gain different secondary school qualifications depending on their needs. University Entrance, New Zealand Certificate and NCEA level 1, 2 and 3 are all offered through the programme. 

Over 2000 students have enrolled in the programme since Ara started the Dual Pathway programme in 2011, and demand continues to increase year-on-year with over 600 students enrolling in 2018. 

The programme is making a difference to students. Dan Bublik, a year 13 student from Shirley Boys’ High School, has also been studying Digital Technologies through the programme for two years. “At school they have an ICT course, but it doesn’t really cover programming and networking, which is much more specific to my interests,” he says. 

“If I’m having an issue with a project, even after hours I can text or email our [Ara] tutor any time and he’s always happy to help. Before doing this course I was going to go to university and study Computer Science, but I’ve just recently decided to enrol in the Bachelor of Information and Computing technologies at Ara.”   

Courses are delivered at Ara campuses or at schools. “It’s about creating a different learning environment to the school environment,” Emma West, Ara Engagement Manager says. “We want to help students find out what kind of learner they are and what they can do to succeed.”

The Dual Pathway portfolio was designed to meet regional and national economic development needs and employment shortages. Ara is working with industry leaders to ensure students are gaining sought-after skills for further study or employment.  

For a more in-depth look at what Dual Pathway has to offer, taster courses are available as part of the Experience Ara programme.


Celebrating Dual Pathway success at Ara:

Find out more about Experience Ara

Find out more about Dual Pathways



Canterbury’s young entrepreneurs pitch for a chance at nationals

Participants in the YES scheme participated in events throughout the year to develop their business concept and thr entrepreneurial skills in the lead up to the regional final this Wednesday.  

Participants in the YES scheme participated in events throughout the year to develop their business concept and thr entrepreneurial skills in the lead up to the regional final this Wednesday.  

The eight Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) teams who will compete at the Canterbury regional final on 31 October have shown a professionalism beyond their years, according to organisers.  

“All have shown huge determination and self-drive; consistently producing excellent quality work and presenting strong submissions throughout the year with a professionalism beyond their years and experience. Their scores are extremely close,” Canterbury YES regional coordinator, employed by Ara, Idoia Alday Gonzalez said.   

YES sees senior secondary school-aged entrepreneurs set up and run real businesses over the course of a year. Over 500 senior secondary school students participated in the YES programme in Canterbury, creating a product or service, developing a business and selling to real buyers.  

The eight finalists showed creativity and innovation, while awareness of environmental issues also played a large part in product conceptualisation. A healthy coconut spread, environmentally-friendly limited-edition wooden pegs, a jobsite for students, a preservative-free cracker, a carabineer with a grip handle equipped with reusable grocery bags, a native forest learning programme, bio degradable air fresheners and minimal carbon footprint candles have found support with local business partners and customers.  

YES helps to develop not just business, but also life skills. “Through their YES journey, students learn valuable skills such as financial responsibility, the importance of relationships and moderating risks. As these students complete their education and go on to participate in our workforce and in our communities these skills will be highly valued,” Alday Gonzalez says. 

The showcase ‘Annual Review’ event celebrates the achievements of all the teams in the region, however the judges - Steve Brooks, Founder of Dream Believe Succeed, Milly Goodwin, Consultant at Emst & Young Ltd., Ross James, Dean of University of Canterbury Business School, and Rob Lawrence, Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce R&D Specialist Growth Advisor - will be watching the eight final teams closely.  

“The top eight scoring teams (across three challenges completed throughout the year) will be invited to pitch competitively to a panel of judges for the final 10 points. Both the Regional Champions and Runner Up teams will go to Wellington to compete in the National Final.” 

There is a $25,000 national prize pool as well as regional awards and cash prizes and tertiary scholarships. Regionally, Ara sponsors excellence awards for Innovation and for Enterprising Technology plus the prizes for winning team and the runners up. 

The eight finalists are:

Adavika (Middleton Grange School)

Peg it! (Villa Maria College)

Ninja Employments (Christchurch Girls’ High School)

Too Good Foods (Villa Maria College)

CarryBENA (Villa Maria College)

The Gro•Up Group  (Cashmere High School)

SOS Fresheners (Villa Maria College)

Aether Candles (Papanui High School) 

YES aligns closely with the Ara approach of experiential, real world learning, which helps to develop problem solving, leadership and communication skills alongside core competencies.  

Previous YES teams have gone on to run successful businesses – the CEO of Kiwibank, the founder of Eat My Lunch and the creator of the Charlie’s Juice empire have all completed the Young Enterprise Scheme.  

Alday Gonzalez acknowledged the huge support of the local business community. “Operating on sponsorships and support from local and national businesses, entrepreneurs and community networks, we are incredibly grateful for the time and expertise provided by mentors and coaches and for the other prizes and sponsorships the students receive. Without the generosity of our family of supporters, the scheme would not be able to exist.”   

ANZ, UC Business, XCHC, Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CCANZ), Dream Believe Succeed and Ernst & Young are the major sponsors of the event.