8 Sep 2021

Digital divide hurting new cohort of kids

7:04 am on 8 September 2021

School and iwi trust leaders are having to intervene - paying for devices and internet for families - to prevent a new wave of children falling behind this lockdown.

Kid studying homework math during his online lesson at home, social distance during quarantine. Self-isolation and online education concept caused by coronavirus pandemia

Children are learning from home due to the lockdown. Photo: 123RF

Last year, the Ministry of Education provided more than 36,000 devices for some high school students in lockdown and has sent out an additional 5,500 devices, approximately, this time.

Wharekura, decile 1 to 3 schools and Auckland students have been prioritised, but the tech hasn't made it to everyone.

So far, Ōtara mum Fili Laasaga is having to watch her 14-year-old daughter try and make do with a cell phone.

She was meant to have a Chromebook but it went for repairs just before the outbreak began.

Laasaga is worried about how far behind her daughter will be when level 2 returns in Auckland.

"It has an impact... She is trying to keep up with her learning and studies but without a device it's impossible."

Whiti Ora o Kaipara Charitable Trust is trying to help students in rural West Auckland, going without.

Chair Brenda Steele (Te Uri o Hau, Ngāti Whatua, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kuri, Te Rarawa) is meeting regularly with the Ministry of Education.

"They're not moving fast enough, they just keep coming up with reasons to why it's just not happening at the moment. But it's too late, it's not quick enough, it's not good enough."

"I really feel for the parents who are really working hard to actually try and get the schoolwork done," she said.

Te Uri o Hau Tangata Development has spent thousands of dollars to provide Chromebooks to dozens of rangatahi in Northland high schools, who have missed out on school and ministry supplies in the Delta outbreak.

Manager Tania Moriarty (Te Uri o Hau, Te Parawhau) has been driven by concerns students won't come back to class after lockdown.

"We learned from the last time that post-Covid lockdown there are a lot of our rangatahi who are disengaged from education. So we didn't want that to happen again."

The trust's new purchases only went to those doing NCEA.

Younger ones continued to make do with hardcopy packs and self-directed learning.

"We don't have rose-coloured glasses. We are not going to be able to capture every one of our rangatahi but we are going to try our damned hardest to do that."

Sometimes the biggest problem isn't device access, it's data costs.

Research commissioned by Māori Education Trust Te Pūtea Whakatupu backs this up, stating about 145,000 tamariki did not have access to the internet going into lockdown last year.

Te Rūnanga Nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa associate tumuaki Rawiri Wright (Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu) was not surprised Māori students continued to miss out on tech.

"The ministry offered to help again this year but none of us were relying on the ministry for that because the delivery was so poor last year."

In the Bay of Plenty, Waihī Beach School has fundraised and taken money out of its operational budget to buy dozens of extra Chromebooks in the past year.

Even still, sometimes one device is shared between three or four siblings.

Waihī Beach School is decile 7 but principal Rachael Coll said pupils come from a wide range of socio-economic circumstances and learning barriers were often closely linked to poor housing.

"We've got families that we've paid for internet for them to get on because their housing conditions aren't up to scratch. They don't have a modem, they don't have a cord to plug into, in their house or their cabin or their shed that they're living in, so they are unable to access the internet first off... We help them with that and then we help them with a device and help them connect. Then I have teachers saying to me: 'Man, that has made a massive difference, these kids don't want to get off their Zoom.'"

Overall in New Zealand, Coll said distance learning was "not equitable whatsoever".

An online petition started on the first day of lockdown, calling for free or subsidised devices for all school children, has collected 800 signatures so far.

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