Home-time was when school finished with the three o’clock bell. In today’s world of digital connectivity, class can continue well beyond the school gates. This is the age of the BYOD – bring your own device – a programme that has been introduced to the majority of schools throughout Aotearoa New Zealand during the past few years.

While schools cannot legally require students to bring their own digital device to school, the reality is that many do. Some openly flout the law, such as the country’s biggest school, Rangitoto College, which states on its website: “Students at all levels are required to bring a device to school to support their learning”.

Other schools fudge the wording when communicating with parents, using phrases such as: “Students are encouraged to bring an iPad or Chromebook” or “We expect students to have access to a suitable digital device”. Either way, the message is clear.

Widening the gap?

In addition to the expense of buying the device, estimated at an average of $500 per student, there are costs associated with loss, theft and damage which are not easily recovered through insurance policies. Some teachers worry that this is widening the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

“It’s not just the cost of the device; what if it gets broken, stolen or damaged? And, of course, the student needs to be able to access WiFi at home,” says Melanie*, a secondary school teacher in Dunedin.

At Te Akau Ki Papamoa Primary School in Tauranga, management addresses the equity issue by providing all students with their own iPads, a set-up introduced under the leadership of Bruce Jepsen. In this way, students are all on a level footing in the classroom at no additional expense to their family.

Jepsen is a huge advocate of digital learning, saying that the moderate learner has a far greater engagement and access to the curriculum through the use of technologies.

“We understood this when we started the programme, but we didn’t expect that we’d have double the output of physical writing with a pen than pre 1:1 digital or that the quality of the writing would be double.”

In Jepsen’s 12 years at the school, achievement levels have rocketed and today 90 per cent of the children perform at or above expectation.

Parental buy-in crucial

Dan*, a primary teacher in Wellington, is equally enthusiastic.

“Our year 3–6s can bring a Chromebook or iPad and we have no issues at all. Engagement and achievement has improved, it’s all working amazingly well. We also have devices for those students who don’t bring their own. We started by introducing the programme to parents at an open morning and they were amazed by what their kids were doing.

“Getting buy-in from parents and being clear about the use of devices is crucial. It is also part of our annual and strategic plans – being confident, connected, digital citizens, which is in The New Zealand Curriculum.”

For parents, the big worry after cost is the amount of time their children are spending on screens.

“There are three main challenges with BYOD: distraction and inappropriate content exposure, displacement of other activities, and the differences between using a device compared to analogue for some types of learning,” says Julie Cullen, founder of New Zealand website, Sensible Screen Use.

“Solutions are very age-dependent. To deal with distraction, be aware that firewalls can’t block all inappropriate content and it’s hard to monitor what large numbers of children are doing. Some schools approach this by allowing only small groups in a class to be on a device at any one time and positioning screens to the teacher or main class area, and using devices for collaborative work only.

“Some primary schools with BYOD policies have discontinued homework on devices because of issues with students using school devices for non-educational purposes at home.

“When using devices displaces other activities, again some schools use the strategy whereby only small groups ‘rotate’ to doing an activity on devices for a period of a class. Some schools have policies where break periods are device-free and outdoor play is encouraged, which may be protective for vision issues related to high screen use, as well as encouraging socialisation and physical activity.”

Digital vs analogue learning

Regarding differences in digital versus analogue learning, Cullen, a paediatric physiotherapist, says the best approach will depend on the task.

“If you look at reading as one example, once children are fluent readers, teaching them which method of reading is best for different tasks is important. For example, if they’re scanning through research to find out information about a topic – that’s probably best online, whereas if they are trying to read complex information, they might remember more and understand more if reading from paper.”

Whichever way you look at it, internet-connectivity is now interwoven with education. It is considered fundamental to education, opening doorways to a wealth of information, knowledge and resources. According to the international Internet Society, a global organisation represented in 133 regions, access to the internet can help to rectify inequalities in education.

“Education is both a basic human right and a core element of sustainable development. It is the theme of the United Nations’ fourth Sustainable Development Goal, which seeks to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.”

*Names have been changed

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