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Cook Islander returns home to bridge tech gap and empower youth

Saturday 9 March 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National


Cook Islander returns home to bridge tech gap and empower youth
Students at Apii Mauke learn touch typing tutored by Vaipunu Ian Tairea of the Mauke Tech Academy (MTAC). VAIPUNU IAN TAIREA/24030838

Vaipunu Ian Tairea, a software developer on the island of Mauke, is excited with the prospect of computer technology becoming the biggest employment opportunity for the Cook Islands, especially the Pa Enua.

“Our dream is to see the mapu (youth) of the Cook Islands earning top dollars from overseas without having to leave their island communities,” said Tairea.

“I’m motivated to serve our beautiful people, and do my part to help the next generation reach their full potential, and live lives full of purpose and passion.”

Tairea is a software developer and is currently running a digital literacy programme through his Mauke Tech Academy (MTAC) for the junior students of Apii Mauke.

The programme includes touch typing, searching the internet for information, and graphic design, as well as a future programme planned on filmmaking.

Tairea said the senior students of Apii Mauke are presently working through a 3D Modelling course “that was put together in collaboration with our recently passed brother, Mii Taokia”.

“We have also been running night-class workshops for the adults on Thursday nights with our first workshop series teaching CAD (Computer-aided design) to design a shed.”

Tairea was born in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and has worked as a technologist and educator in New Zealand for the past 20+ years.

“It has always been a dream of mine to teach technology skills to our people in the Cook Islands,” he said.

Tairea fulfilled his dream and, in 2022, relocated to Mauke with his father, also named Vaipunu Tairea.

He started off teaching digital technologies to the tamariki (children) at Apii Mauke.

“At first we were limited in what we could teach due to a lack of suitable computer equipment and internet infrastructure at the school,” he said.

“But after a year of determination and God’s blessings we received a donation of used (but high-spec) laptops from a tech company in New Zealand and sponsorship of Starlink internet from a generous donor.”

With this equipment and the use of a spare classroom at Apii Mauke, they were equipped with everything they needed to run high-quality digital technology educational programmes.

On December 18, 2023, Mauke Tech Academy opened with a blessing, dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony supported by its community.

Currently, MTAC is experimenting with different days, times, and courses to find the best fit for the Mauke community.

“MTAC programmes will run as long as there is interest. We will create new courses that will cater to the interests and the needs of the community, building technical skills and capacity on the island.”

Tairea would like to acknowledge and give special thanks to Crispin Keith and Education Payroll New Zealand for the donation of the laptops and Rich Bodo for the sponsorship of the Starlink internet subscription.

“We also look forward to establishing tech academies on the other islands in the Pa Enua. Please get in touch if you like to be the next island for our courses or if you can help us to make this happen,” said Tairea.