Saturday, December 4

Principals Raise Concern as Students Enter Device-Free Remote Learning


Principals are frustrated that once again thousands of children have entered remote learning without digital devices for their school work.

Asian girl is learning math and looking for primary school teacher teaching online via laptop at home, remote learning

Photo: 123rf

They said the devices made a big difference to learning at home and that the government should subsidize or provide computers to children whose families cannot afford them.

Ōtorohanga’s father, Anthony Wanoa, said he normally tried to limit his two sons’ screen time, but under the lock virtually all of his school work was online.

“I don’t like that they use technology too much, but when it comes to homework, everything is at their fingertips, they can do a lot of research to help them. And they can also chat with their friends, just participate like they would in school, but through from the computer, so it’s extremely important, “he said.

But not all children had a computer to work on.

Ōtorohanga College principal Traci Liddall said 100 students, about a third of the school’s total, did not have a device of their own and really needed it.

“It’s vital. It’s important anyway, but in this age with the lockdown, that’s his contact with the outside world, that’s his contact with his teacher, that’s his contact with his classmates,” Liddall said.

“They are often doing NCEA so they need that feedback and that the feedback is done on a regular basis. They can’t wait two weeks for the paper work to be marked and then sent back to them.”

The university was sending devices to the kids who needed them most, but it was taking time, he said.

“Today, I finally managed to book the courier, who didn’t know where our city was, had never heard of it, and probably won’t send us a courier until tomorrow, which means our students won’t receive their hard packets and devices until Wednesday at this stage at the earliest. So there are a lot of additional barriers that wouldn’t be there if students already had a device. “

There was no point asking the Education Ministry to ship devices because they were unlikely to arrive before the lockdown ended, Liddall said, but he believes the government should do more to bridge the digital divide.

The principal of Ōtahuhu Elementary School, Jason Swann, was preparing printed resource packets for his students.

The packages would be sent to all families in the schools because their Internet access was so varied that they could not depend on learning online, he said.

It was very different from the situation in many other schools.

“You just have to look at the media coverage that they say on television and, in general, the children sit at home at their breakfast bar, all with one-on-one devices and learning and that is not our reality, our reality is far from it.

“We have parents … the only connectivity and device they have is their cell phone.”

He said those students were at a disadvantage.

“When you have a learning package and it is a paper learning package, you don’t necessarily have the interaction with your classroom teacher if you want to consult particular problems or research.”

The digital divide was a pervasive problem among schools and Swann was frustrated that nothing more had been done to address it since the Auckland and national closures last year.

Albany Senior High School principal Claire Amos started a petition on the first day of lockdown asking for free or subsidized devices for school-age children.

She was part of a government reference group that recommended solutions in 2014 and was frustrated that the problem had not yet been resolved.

“I am extremely frustrated that we are still sitting here seven or eight years later and that we see young people being sent photocopied material in another confinement. I think the time has come to address this problem and solve it once and for all.” said Amos.

Some schools had so few students with devices that they weren’t doing online learning under normal circumstances, and that wasn’t good enough, he said.

The government didn’t need to give away laptops, but there were other options like subsidized ownership, he said.

“I know some people will say ‘What about the cost’ but what is the cost of our youth not having these devices? What is the real cost if we have this protracted digital divide? Actually, it is an easy problem to solve. I just need to put the money back and go ahead and figure it out. “

Students needed to be connected not only for academic reasons, but also in the interest of their mental well-being, Amos said.


www.rnz.co.nz

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