According to a new research, thousands of students still don’t have access to the internet at home, and even more don’t have access to a device that isn’t a cellphone. In a big study conducted in June, half of low-decile schools stated the majority of their pupils had no device at home, and a quarter indicated more than half had no internet access. The Network for Learning (N4L) study, which was released today, was based on responses from 550 schools that took part in a poll in June, two months before Auckland was placed under lockdown. In the lowest decile schools (decile 1-3), 47% said more than half of their kids did not have access to a device at home, compared to 7% in the highest decile schools.
And one digital advocate told the Herald many kids are still missing out – often because they’re too embarrassed to ask their school for a laptop. Schools that responded to N4L’s survey said without internet or devices their students could struggle to complete research or other online homework. They could easily fall behind or feel left out, and their digital literacy could suffer.
But Xero developer Eteroa Lafaele believes there is more need out there for devices, including among secondary students. Lafaele started the charitable initiative DigiTautua to distribute laptops to kids in need, focusing initially on South Auckland. Eteroa Lafaele is the founder of DigiTautua, a charitable initiative that distributes laptops to students in need. Photo / Supplied Eteroa Lafaele is the founder of DigiTautua, a charitable initiative that distributes laptops to students in need. Photo / Supplied. DigiTautua has had more than 1000 requests for devices since lockdown began in August and is working through the backlog as resources become available – and making sure it’s not doubling up with Ministry laptops.
Connecting with those students and their parents was difficult even outside lockdowns as they couldn’t get email newsletters or receive progress reports; and during lockdown students lost contact with classmates and teachers. The biggest shortage in devices was among primary school students – likely thanks to the Ministry of Education’s focus on getting devices out to secondary students who needed them for NCEA. Since the start of the pandemic the Ministry has sent out more than 46,000 devices including 10,000 this year, according to RNZ. Ministry spokeswoman Ellen MacGregor-Reid told RNZ there were supply issues due to lockdown and high demand from many organisations. About 40,000 younger students were still missing devices but the ministry had met “all known secondary need”, she said.
Resources come through both a Givealittle page – which has raised more than $90,000 – and companies which donate old laptops to be wiped and refurbished for students to use. Students don’t need fancy laptops, Lafaele said. “They don’t need Nasa gaming chips to do the job – they just need basic 4GB of ram, one good CPU and they’re sorted.” Lafaele and DigiTautua’s other team member drop off about 20 devices a week in Auckland, making sure secondary students get priority. She reckons about half their deliveries are to people in state housing and the other half to emergency accommodation.
There were secondary students who had not asked their schools for Ministry-funded devices for a whole range of reasons, she said. Some were worried that their siblings would damage the device, with one school charging a $100 bond for each laptop. Others were too embarrassed to ask for help. That included students who attended high-decile schools – one boy was on a scholarship at an elite private school but couldn’t face asking the school for a laptop when all his classmates had expensive Macbooks. She wanted to push back against the “shadow of whakamā” (shame) some students were feeling. “These kids deserve the opportunity to get a device and an education.”