Saturday, November 27

Digital divide, food costs hit some families hard after long lockdown

The Auckland school children have been trapped at home for over two months, and the teachers are doing their best to help the struggling whānau.

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Today, the government is set to announce more details on when and how the city’s schools will reopen.

For some families, that won’t come soon enough.

But for others, what happens next is just another source of anxiety.

Randwick Park School in South Auckland has 670 students.

Assistant Principal Sandra Booth said when she’s been away from home, making contactless deliveries, the streets have been quiet – no kids playing, all indoors.

“I think fear helps them cope, because they don’t want their family to get sick, they can’t afford to get sick financially, there are too many in the house to get sick, so they persevere and keep going.”

It has not been easy.

Even a simple trip to the grocery store can be difficult, Booth said.

“If they don’t have transportation, they have to organize to get on a bus to go to [Southmall in Manurewa]. If they are single parents, they have to take their children with them because they are not old enough to stay at home and sometimes things are too difficult. “

And it is more difficult in the confinement, when the children are at home all the time.

“They come to school and fix school lunch and they can come to the breakfast club if they want to,” Booth said.

“It’s a huge amount of money that parents have the ability to save, but when the kids are home all day, the amount of food they eat is incredible.”

Booth said they have been doing everything they can to help.

At the beginning of the confinement, he collected all the food the school had on hand and made boxes of sandwiches for whānau.

He has also spent money out of his own pocket making food packages.

The school also distributed 700 home learning kits and additional devices to families with multiple children.

“It’s a question of access, we don’t all have the same access to the world,” Booth said.

“We do not have the same access to the Internet, to telephones or to family, or to be able to go shopping or have a car.”

A few kilometers away is the Rowandale School in Manurewa.

Principal Karl Vasau said less than half of his students have connected with their teachers online during the lockdown.

“We are concerned that many of our children just haven’t had any form of learning at home.”

The biggest barrier: access to devices and reliable internet.

“We have so many families that they only have one device to share with their family and sometimes that comes down to being a phone or mom’s phone,” Vasau said.

When the students returned, Vasau said it was important to assure parents that their children would be safe at school.

But he said the only approach would not be to just catch up on school work, he also wants to make sure they do things to create memories and offer experiences that were lost during the confinement.

But Child Poverty Action Group spokesperson Janet McAllister is concerned about the long-term consequences of the digital divide.

“Education is key to reducing intergenerational poverty, and we are denying children this basic right. We are leaving children behind and, once again, this was something we could have foreseen.”

The next official statistics on child poverty will be released in February, but will only show the impact of the first closing of last year.

But McAllister said life is almost certain to get harder for some.

“Given the financial distress in the community, we would strongly expect the numbers of material hardships to have increased, and it is inconceivable.”

Research from the Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that 18,000 more children are likely to have ended up in poverty in the 12 months to March this year, even without taking into account the rising cost of housing.

The Tamariki Māori and Pacific children were up to three times more likely than the Pākehā children to suffer difficulties.

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