The announced support package is designed to alleviate the problems students, particularly those from disadvantaged areas, will face through distance learning during the Level Four lockdown.
Ragne Maxwell is the principal of Porirua College, where nearly 66% of the school’s students are Pasifika, 29% are Māori. The remainder of students are Pākeha or from former refugee families.
Between 30 – 50% of Porirua College’s 550 students didn’t have a device and internet prior to the COVID-19 school closures. The school’s 84 Chromebooks were handed out to senior students before the closure of schools, leaving 20-25% of students without access to remote learning, says Ragne.
“I think the Government and the Ministry of Education are doing an excellent job in trying to meet our needs, but there are no simple solutions. There’s no question that some students are going to leave the education system with a lower level of qualifications than they would have otherwise,” she says.
While students and teachers at Porirua College have been using Google Classroom for several years, a trial with Google Meets in the days before the lockdown revealed there were some challenges. One problem encountered was that very few students were able to get online at the allocated time.
“Will they necessarily have access to a device when their class is on? I believe the package will ensure that everybody is provided with something but there’s the provision of teaching materials and then the capacity of students to uptake.
“If you have overcrowded homes with three bedrooms and eight or nine people living there, with one device, it’s hard to find a quiet space to do your work, even if it’s paperwork. I think it’s going to be extremely hard for a number of our students to seriously continue with learning,” she says.
Staff from Porirua College will contact students to talk them through using their devices but demands on staff to meet the level of needs won’t be equitable, Ragne says.
“There are going to be schools where students are used to being on-line and having a device and can operate in that situation reasonably easily. Then there are other schools like our own where there will be a lot of people operating in very new environments and that’s going to bring challenges. So there are real equity issues,” she says.