9 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Longer lockdown could harm education - principals

9:39 am on 9 April 2020

The government has accompanied its $88 million education lockdown package with a warning that school closures could extend beyond the end of the current four-week period.

Teenage Girl At Home Using Digital Tablet Being Bullied On Line

Photo: 123rf

The package included 17,000 laptops and chromebook computers for students who did not have one, internet connections for about 10,000 homes, two new educational TV channels that would broadcast six-and-a-half-hours of educational content per day for a month starting on Wednesday next week, and tens of thousands of paper-based education packs.

Principals told RNZ that would go a long way to helping them provide learning when schools resumed teaching - while still closed - on Wednesday next week.

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Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the government was not planning further school closures, but it was preparing for all scenarios.

"We're still working to the four-week lockdown timetable but we're planning for a whole variety of scenarios at the end of that," he said.

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins presents some of the educational materials being sent out as part of the government's education-in-lockdown package. Photo: NZME

"It's important that even at the end of that time young people are able to continue to learn from home if they need to do so."

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said principals had been talking about the possibility of more lockdowns.

He said schools would probably cope with another closure later in the year, but a single, prolonged shut down would cause problems.

"Three weeks here and three weeks there might be doable, but if we get a consecutive six-week run on it, I think we'll start to see some distress in the sector."

Couillaut said students might lose interest after a prolonged period away from the classroom and teachers might struggle to motivate them.

In the meantime, he said the government's decision to provide laptop and chromebook computers to students who did not have them would make a massive difference to students who needed them.

"It allows them to engage individually in an online space as opposed to having to borrow a device from somewhere else so they'll benefit greatly," he said.

Couillault said about 100-150 of his Year 12 and 13 students did not have devices.

Northland's Hora Hora School principal Pat Newman said he applauded the Education Ministry for its efforts.

He warned that some low decile schools like his own were struggling to find their students, let alone deliver laptops to them.

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Pat Newman (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

"Some of our children will be in homes, we've verified as much as we can. Some will be in bubbles with aunties and uncles and nannas and grandparents and we don't know where their bubble is yet and we're still trying to find that out," he said.

Newman said a further prolonged lockdown would harm children's learning, especially among younger children.

"It depends what level they're at," he said.

"I'm not a great believer in putting five-year-olds and six-year-olds and even primary school kids in front of tv screens and computers for five or six hours a day. If it goes on and on and on, there will be repercussions on kids' learning."

National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye told Morning Report National is expecting to see a much larger education package.

"It's one thing to have a few weeks but it's another thing to have learning not happening for a long period of time."

She said connectivity will be patchy for some households but there are bigger issues, like what's happening in the longer term around mental health and upskilling.

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