14 Feb 2018

Digital divide in schools leaves students struggling

7:07 pm on 14 February 2018

Low-income families are struggling to afford computers for their children and there is a growing demand for help, an Auckland trust says.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Manaiakalani Trust executive officer Jenny Oxley said digital learning was critical for children from deprived backgrounds.

The trust helps families in Tamaki buy Chromebook computers for their children at a cost of $3.65 per week over three years. It also provides wireless internet connections across the community.

Ms Oxley said all schools would have families who struggled to afford computers.

"Communities right across the country are struggling to get equitable access to learning for their young kids, and particularly as digital teaching and learning becomes such a critical part of kids moving ahead in the digital world," she said.

Michele Whiting, the principal of decile one Corinna School in Porirua, said her school benefited from a similar scheme run by Te Mana o Kupe Trust.

"A lot of private businesses offer deals, but compounding interest is always a real problem for many of our families. So it was really important to have a charitable trust support them in being able to take on a lease-to-buy scheme."

Secondary Principals Association president Mike Williams said high-decile schools could rely on most of their parents to buy computers for their children and many low-decile schools received help from charities for their technology costs.

"The schools that are probably struggling are the mid to lower-decile schools who don't get the philanthropic support, parents are still struggling themselves," he said.

"They still want their students to have access to the devices because it really engages the kids, they can take their learning to another level but they're probably trying to fund it themselves and that's where the big challenge is."

Mr Williams said teens needed their own computers that they could take home with them, rather than devices supplied by their school.

The debate over who should pay would sharpen as more NCEA exams were offered online, he said.

20/20 Trust chairperson Laurence Millar said parents needed to be careful not to buy the cheapest laptop they could find, because some were under-powered and ran very slowly.

However, the cost of a computer was often the least of the tech requirements that families must pay for.

"The larger financial investment is the internet connection," Mr Millar said.

"Generally you're not going to get much less than $60 a month for an internet connection which is a significant amount if it's not something the family has budgeted for before and they're on a low income."

Mr Millar said most internet packages required direct debit payments and that did not work well for many poor families. However, Spark offered a pre-paid scheme, Spark Jump, which was helpful for people on low incomes.

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