By: Simon Collins

A survey of schools has exposed a yawning gap in home internet access for school students in rich and poor New Zealand families.

The survey found that at one in six of the country’s poorest schools, less than a quarter of students had access to internet at home.

The survey by the state-owned Network for Learning, which provides high-speed broadband to 99 per cent of NZ schools, also found that 56 per cent of the low-decile principals felt the lack of internet at home had an impact on teaching and learning.

“Most class work and homework is cloud-based. Lack of access is a barrier,” one school said.

Another said: “Students do not get supported by programmes that others get, and are left behind.”

They said school links with parents were also affected because many schools now communicated with parents via apps, online platforms or email newsletters.

Principals of 84 per cent of schools in the richest three deciles say at least three quarters of their students can access the internet at home to do their homework. But in the poorest three deciles, 15 per cent of schools say less than a quarter of students had home internet access.

Child Poverty Action Group co-convenor Alan Johnson said the home internet data, included for the first time in N4L’s annual survey of schools, was no surprise.

“While we have probably seen an increase in connections to digital services over the last four or five years because the fact is things are getting cheaper, the reality is that for people at the bottom, that is still a problem,” he said.

“The big basic issue is lack of income.”

In the 2013 Census, 62,000 (15 per cent) of households with school-aged children, with 150,000 children between them, did not have internet at home.

The 2020 Communications Trust estimates that those numbers were now down to between 25,000 and 30,000 homes with about 80,000 school-aged children – about 10 per cent of the country’s 808,000 school students.

The N4L survey found that only 6 per cent of all schools say fewer than a quarter of their students now have internet access at home: 16 per cent of low-decile schools, 0.5 per cent of mid-decile schools and no high-decile schools.

N4L and the Ministry of Education are involved in four local schemes to provide home access to the N4L school internet network in the Manaiakalani cluster in Glen Innes (Auckland), Kawerau and Murupara in the Bay of Plenty, Rata St School in Lower Hutt and Haeata Community Campus in Christchurch.

Manaiakalani executive officer Jenny Oxley said her trust used philanthropic and commercial funding to relay access via lamp-post transmitters from the cluster’s 12 schools to the homes of about 3500 children at a capital cost of $500,000 to $800,000.

In the Bay of Plenty, Te Aka Toitū Trust manager Keld Hunia said a group of Kawerau principals gained funding from two local energy trusts to finance computers for children at $3 to $4 a week.

They have now raised extra support to install $380 receivers on the roofs of about 160 homes in Murupara to access the N4L network.

“Chorus did a survey saying 40 per cent of homes in Murupara don’t have internet access,” he said.

“Parents and grandparents of these kids are coming along saying, ‘Can I have one of those things on my house because we get the children three or four days a week and we want to give them the opportunity when they come to our place to do their homework’.”

The N4L network filters out harmful websites and enables each school to block sites such as social media and games. Hunia said Murupara Area School set different filters for each age group.

“If you are Year 3 or 4, you shouldn’t have access to YouTube, but when you are Year 10, 11, 12 or 13, because some of your projects require you to go into YouTube, you get access,” he said.

He said the Murupara installation should be finished by the end of June and the trust then aimed to repeat the process in Kawerau. He said the Ministry of Education saw the local schemes as pilots.

2020 Trust director Laurence Millar said it would cost about $40 million to provide subsidised devices and internet access for the remaining 25,000 to 30,000 homes with school-aged children that are still offline.

He said research showed that the economic benefits of using the internet, such as applying for jobs and buying cheaper goods online, exceeded the costs.

“You are better off with the internet even though you pay a connection fee,” he said.

Source: NZ Herald

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