Sunday, November 28

The digital divide affects a new cohort of children

School and iwi trust leaders have to step in, paying for devices and the internet for families, to prevent a new wave of children from being left behind in this lockdown.

Boy studying homework math during his online lesson at home, social distancing during quarantine.  Concept of self isolation and online education caused by coronavirus pandemic

The children are learning from home due to the closure.
Photo: 123RF

Last year, the Ministry of Education provided more than 36,000 devices for some locked up high school students and has shipped an additional 5,500 devices, roughly, this time.

Wharekura schools, deciles 1-3 and Auckland students have been prioritized, but technology has not reached everyone.

So far, Ōtara’s mother, Fili Laasaga, has to watch her 14-year-old daughter try to get by with a cell phone.

He was supposed to have a Chromebook, but they fixed it just before the outbreak started.

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

“It has an impact … She is trying to keep up with her learning and studies, but without a device it is impossible.”

Whiti Ora or Kaipara Charitable Trust is trying to help students in rural West Auckland, who have nothing to do with it.

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

“They’re not moving fast enough, they just keep giving reasons why it’s not happening right now. But it’s too late, it’s not fast enough, it’s not good enough.”

“I really feel sorry for the parents who are really working hard to try and get their schoolwork done,” he 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 been left without school and ministerial supplies in the Delta outbreak.

Manager Tania Moriarty (Te Uri o Hau, Te Parawhau) has been prompted by concerns that students will not return to class after closing.

“We learned from the last time that after the Covid lockdown there are a lot of our Rangatahi who are disconnected from education. So we didn’t want that to happen again.”

The new trust purchases were only for those who make NCEA.

The younger ones continued to get hold of the printed packets and self-directed learning.

“We don’t have pink glasses. We won’t be able to capture every one of our rangatahi but we will do our best to do so.”

Sometimes the biggest issue isn’t device access, it’s data costs.

Research commissioned by the Māori Education Trust Te Pūtea Whakatupu supports this, indicating that some 145,000 children I did not have internet access going into lockdown last year.

For Te Rūnanga Nui or Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori or Aotearoa, Associate Director Rawiri Wright (Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu) was not surprised that Maori students continued to lose technology.

“The ministry offered to help again this year, but none of us trusted the ministry for that because the delivery was very poor last year.”

In the Bay of Plenty, Waihī Beach School raised funds and withdrew money from its operating budget to purchase dozens of additional Chromebooks over the past year.

Still, sometimes a device is shared between three or four siblings.

Waihī Beach School is in decile 7, but Principal Rachael Coll said students come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and that learning barriers were often closely related to poor housing.

“We have families to whom we have paid for the internet so that they can live because their housing conditions are not up to par. They do not have a modem, they do not have a cable to plug in, in their house or their cabin or the shed in which they live so they can’t access the internet in the first place … We help them with that and then we help them with a device and help them connect. Then I have teachers who say to me, ‘Man, that made a big difference , these kids don’t want to get off their Zoom. ‘”

In general, in New Zealand, Coll said that distance education “was not equitable at all”.

A online petition began on the first day of lockdown, asking for free or subsidized devices for all school-age children, so far it has collected 800 signatures.

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