4 Mar 2021

Principals worried about students with no internet

9:46 am on 4 March 2021

There are calls for the government to fund more home internet connections so Auckland school children can learn from home.

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Photo: 123RF

Secondary principals told RNZ good access to the internet at home was vital for teenagers during lockdowns, but some families could not provide it.

The government last year connected 45,000 households to the internet and is spending $8.3 million dollars to continue those connections until the end of this year, but it is not extending the scheme to more homes.

Ōtāhuhu College principal Neil Watson said 40 of his students benefited from the government scheme and he was pleased the Ministry of Education was continuing their access until the end of the year.

But he said there were still families who did not have the internet and the ministry should expand its scheme to more homes.

"If it was needed last year then logically it's needed again this year," he said.

"We provided internet coverage for 100 families so they didn't actually become part of the ministry's scheme and we've got to look at ways of supporting them this year and I know other schools are in a similar situation."

He said the internet was an ongoing requirement, especially if Auckland schools were going to have more shut downs.

"I guess the issue is the ongoing needs. I think access to the internet and the ability to do that at home is important and how we can do that on a consistent basis year in, year out is something the ministry needs to look at long-term."

Auckland's COMET Education Trust chief executive Susan Warren said it was not an isolated issue.

"We're certainly still hearing there's a problem," she said.

"Sadly it's the lower-decile schools that are still saying that they have a lot of kids who either don't have a device or don't have internet or both."

She said the ministry was right to prioritise senior secondary students last year but there was a growing need among primary children.

"I am getting worried with the length of time that kids are spending in lockdown that the primary school kids also are losing quite a lot of learning time and they're not going to catch up easily because they're also disengaging gradually," Warren said.

She said some families did not get ministry-funded internet connections last year because they told their schools they had internet access, though it was only through their mobile phones and they had since found that was not sufficient for home learning.

She said ideally the government should arrange more connections but it could also link the schools that needed help with charities and companies that wanted to provide it.

James Cook High School principal Grant McMillan said some families at his school missed out on the government scheme because of confusion about how it worked.

He said between a third and a half of his school's families did not have reliable internet access but that was about to change thanks to a scheme run by corporate sponsors.

"We continued work we began before the last lockdown working with Spark and Jump and an international partner Ciena, and our school alongside several others that have been invited in now is at the point where we can now offer any of our families who need it a cellular-based, high-quality wifi in their homes for free," he said.

McMillan said home internet access was so important for home learning that it was absolutely essential.

Māngere College principal Tom Webb said his school was also in the Spark Jump scheme and it would be available to the few remaining families that did not yet have good internet access at home.

"We want all of our students to be able to access all their work via their Google classrooms. That's the most effective way for teachers to put their work up and connect with their students," he said.

The Ministry of Education said it redirected existing funding to cover the $8.3 million cost of continuing the home internet connections to the end of this year.

It said it was not expanding the scheme but it would transfer existing connections to new households where possible and if required.

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