The Covid-19 lockdown saw young Māori students battle with unequal access to digital technology, stymieing their efforts as learning went online.
The finding came from a new report that also praised the way iwi stepped in to provide resources and support, and suggested iwi should play a larger role in the education system.
The report, Addressing rangatahi education - challenges after Covid-19, is a joint effort by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and the University of Auckland.
It was based on research undertaken by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei during lockdown to assess its effects on whānau.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Maia chief executive Rangimarie Hunia said the iwi was alarmed by the high number of whānau struggling with remote education challenges, so it conducted surveys to understand the specific issues and level of support needed within the iwi.
It found that of 668 rangatahi aged between 12 and 17 years - including 217 senior students studying NCEA - more than 50 percent only had, at best, an internet-enabled phone in the household to use for remote learning.
A lack of access to suitable digital devices had flow-on effects for students - negatively impacting their mental health and resilience, and senior students being worried about their future prospects.
To address the issue, the iwi distributed more than 400 Chromebooks to whānau.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Maia chief executive and a co-author of the report, Rangimarie Hunia, told Morning Report that there was a real concern that Māori children had suffered during the lockdown.
"I think what [the report] highlighted was the inequality that's currently existing. No one in March assumed that we were going to go into a global pandemic. So I think what we've found here is a whole lot of structural barriers that have come to the fore, particularly in the education space."
As well as lacking the tools for learning - devices and so on - they also did not have access to information, she said.
"So it's not just the digital tool, it's access to the internet environment. And then there was the third part of it, which is some schools are really prepared for online learning and some are not. And so how we support them across those multiple domains has become the area that we wanted to be more invested in."
In addition, she said: "we need to we need to invest in [children] to get them prepared. I think the other part that we found here, too, was that parents struggled overnight to become teachers.
"And so it's not just about the learner's experience. It's also around how do we support parents to be more active and engaged in supportive and in their children's learning."
To speed that process up, Hunia said: "We've got to be able to speed up the universal provision of suitable devices. So that's got to be absolute number one. So I think the government put a lot of effort into particularly NCEA level one, two, three.
"And we're saying that we have to (expand) that to the younger level... The second part is that we've got to address the connectivity barriers.
"People have to have access, if digital education is going to be the way we're going, they've got to have access to the internet. Too many people were using data, so they were using phones to try and get there. And not everybody had unlimited data to be able to access their learning.
"So the second thing, the third thing, is that we have to get smarter about how we partner with iwi and Māori around educational solutions... we see this as a really good opportunity to start looking at alternative ways...
"The next piece for us, is there has been a gap, we have to acknowledge that right now there's an educational gap that needs to be filled. So that has to require accelerated learning and additional tutoring for our kids, because that eight weeks [of lockdown], while it doesn't sound like much, actually for many of our children, it is. It's a huge barrier."
Co-author Professor Stuart McNaughton, from the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland, said: "The insights provided by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei point to how the education system can better partner with iwi to overcome the divides and build on strengths".
He was impressed by efforts of the iwi to assist their whānau and support the learning of their tamariki and rangatahi.
"It emphasises the need, in the event of a national lockdown, for the government to ensure every school student requiring digital access to online lessons, resources, or learning support is supplied with a digital device and internet connectivity."