Making the digital difference

Jack Growden with another LiteHaus International volunteer donating digital devices to students in rural Queensland.

Supplied by Jack Growden.

Personnel Image

Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

23 February 2022

It started with a single laptop

The New Colombo Plan Scholarship, along with the donation of a single laptop, was the spark that set JCU Alumni Jack Growden on the path to founding LiteHaus International in 2017. Now, Jack says LiteHaus is well on track to providing digital learning opportunities and tools to a million students across the Asia-Pacific region in the next five years.

Starting university at the young age of 16, Jack says his Bachelor of Planning at JCU gave him the opportunity to learn more about the world. “I had really good results at school but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started studying a Bachelor of Planning, which fit my interests and was a really open-ended degree I could tailor to these interests.”

In 2021, Jack was the youngest ever Early Career Recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Science and Engineering. Jack says his degree enabled him to study a variety of perspectives, taking up subjects in anthropology and sociology. “The degree really taught me to consider the relationship between humans, society and the environment as well as the challenges they face. Studying planning really is all about providing humans with a better experience of their space and the world around them,” Jack says.

“The degree was very open-ended and exposed me to so many different topics and subjects. I had the opportunity to travel right across North Queensland and internationally. I always tell people about those wonderful experiences, but ultimately it was something that taught me all about society, geography, and how to make a difference in the world.”

It wasn’t until one of Jack’s lecturers connected him with the opportunity for a New Colombo Plan anthropology field trip that Jack had the lightbulb moment that led to LiteHaus International. “The field school in Papua New Guinea was an amazing experience. I went in 2016, which was the third year of my degree.”

Jack says he came back from the field trip with a renewed passion and direction for his future. “I decided that I wanted to study my Honours degree. I chose a topic focusing on some of the challenges that people in Papua New Guinea were facing, including access to services, education and health,” he says.

On a return trip in 2017, Jack saw a greater need. “While I was there, I saw the lack of technology in the classrooms. I thought to myself, ‘how can this be a quality education in today’s world when students are not developing digital capacity?’” he says.

So, Jack did the only thing he could do at the time: he donated his own personal laptop to Kuta Primary School right then and there. He made the promise to return with twelve more to establish a computer lab at the school.

“The next day I came home to Townsville from Papua New Guinea and founded LiteHaus International,” Jack says.

Jack Growden with school students in Papua New Guinea.

Supplied by Jack Growden.

Cultivating technology-driven education

Jack’s first donation was just the beginning of LiteHaus International, a non-profit charity that provides digital learning opportunities and tools to students in Papua New Guinea and across rural, regional and remote Australia.

“Where we’re at today, we’ve supported about 40,000 students with digital learning opportunities. It started with that first laptop, then returning six months later to establish the first functional primary school computer lab in Papua New Guinea.

“We started with one single device, and it just snowballed from there. We took all of the opportunities available to us,” Jack says. “It was just a lot of hard yakka. It’s as simple as that.”

In growing LiteHaus’s capacity to provide digital technology, Jack says he built connections with many members of his own community. “I started with putting out a call on social media and then it grew to connecting with larger companies who started getting on board.”

LiteHaus also works to build digital skills within Papua New Guinean communities to make the best use of the technology. “When we install a computer lab in a school in Papua New Guinea, we’re dealing with a cohort of not just students but also teachers,” Jack says. “98 per cent of the people in parts of the Highlands have never seen, let alone used, a computer in their lives. So, we can’t just drop the technology and run; we’ve developed a program called the Digital Skills Passport.”

“It’s a highly interactive program designed for a Papua New Guinean, low-digitally-skilled audience. It’s designed to take people through the very basics of how to turn on a laptop or desktop, how to even open the laptop and where to put the charger, and how to use the keyboard. It’s very interactive and games-oriented for the students. It’s designed to teach them the basics and they build up to writing a letter to me as the CEO through the word processing skills they’ve learned,” he says.

“Students also have access to Niunet, which is a massive treasure trove of educational content,” Jack says. “Niunet is a Papua New Guinea startup which sees students have access to an offline database of information where they can learn history, geography, and so on.

“We have a strong bond with the communities in Papua New Guinea with all phases of the project, from implementation to monitoring and evaluation being delivered by local staff.” Jack says.

JCU Alumni Jack Growden stands on the tray of a ute unpacking computers from a pallet while a school student smiles holding one of the computers.
JCU Alumni Jack Growden holds up a sign saying 'we donated our digital devices to LiteHaus International' while he smiles standing behind a large pile of laptops on a desk.
Left: Jack unloads digital devices for school students in Australia. Right: Jack with JCU's donation of 190 digital devices. Supplied by: Jack Growden.

Tackling trash with technology

Jack says LiteHaus has found a way to supply these critical technologies while also tackling the problem of e-waste in Australia. “We’re conquering two problems with one solution. It’s not just the digital divide between students, but now tackling e-waste is also one of our biggest goals.

“90 per cent of all corporate e-waste ends up in landfill. It’s the fastest-growing waste stream in all of Australia,” Jack says.

“While businesses and companies are inadvertently throwing away this valuable technology, students are going without these devices for their learning. So, we’re putting these two problems together to create a solution.”

Addressing the problem of e-waste has also enabled LiteHaus to support even more students closer to home.

“We realised there was a digital divide across our own communities. When COVID-19 struck we saw there were so many students learning from home because of school closures,” Jack says. “We put out a call on social media that we had 50 digital devices available for students who needed them for online learning. In only 48 hours, we ended up with over 1,400 applications for these digital devices.”

“We’ve now delivered over 1,000 digital devices to students across rural, regional and remote Queensland, including First Nations peoples and migrant families.”

“We’ve had a number of JCU students donate their own laptops to LiteHaus and JCU themselves have now also taken the plunge. JCU is setting the standard on reducing landfill and donating the devices to LiteHaus that will then be passed on to students right across Australia.”

JCU Alumni and LiteHaus International Founder Jack Growden

“The last batch of devices we received, for example, will be going to students at Cowboys House here in Townsville, migrant families around the region and rural students right out to the Mount Isa border.”

First in his family to attend university, Jack sees it as his responsibility to support education for others. “Potentially these are students who will be studying at JCU in the years to come. We always pass on the message about where their laptops come from and that JCU will support them.”

Digitising one million dreams

Now over five years into the LiteHaus International journey, Jack says he has even bigger goals for the next five years. “Our vision is to empower one million individuals within the next five years and we’re well and truly on track to do it by then,” he says.

“This next year we will provide 200,000 students with digital learning opportunities across the world. That will include 3,000 students across rural, regional and remote Australia. In Papua New Guinea, we’re going to be establishing 160 computer labs this year,” Jack says. “So, that works out to be one new computer lab every 48 hours. We’ll also begin building computer labs in the Philippines, with 20 of those rolling out in rural Mindanao in September.

“If you’ve got an end-of-life device at home gathering dust, reach out. We can ensure it stays out of landfill and gets into the hands of a student in need,” Jack says.

Want to find out more about creating a digital education future for all? Find out more about LiteHaus International or learn how to donate your own digital devices.

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