Principals voice concerns as students embark on device-less distance learning

School principals are frustrated that once again thousands of children have embarked on distance learning without digital devices for their schoolwork.

Photo: 123rf

They said the devices made a big difference to home learning and that the government should subsidize or provide computers to children whose families could not afford them.

ÅŒtorohanga’s father, Anthony Wanoa, said he normally tries to limit his two boys’ screen time, but under lockdown virtually all of their schoolwork is online.

“I don’t really like them to be on tech, but when it comes to schoolwork everything is right there, they can do a lot of research to help them. And also, they can chat with their kids. friends, just engage like they would in school but through the computer, so that’s extremely important, ”he said.

But not all children had a computer to work on.

The principal of ÅŒtorohanga College, Traci Liddall, said that 100 students, or about a third of the school’s total, did not have a device and they really needed it.

“It’s vital. It’s important anyway, but these days with the lockdown, it’s their contact with the outside world, it’s their contact with their teacher, it’s their contact with their fellow students. class, ”Liddall said.

“They often do the NCEA so they need that feedback and that feedback on a regular basis. They can’t wait two weeks until the paperwork is marked and then sent back. “

The college was sending devices to the kids who needed them most, but it was taking time, she said.

“Today I finally managed to book the courier, who didn’t know where our city is, never heard of and probably won’t send us a courier until tomorrow, which means our students don’t ‘They won’t get their hard bags and devices until Wednesday at the earliest at this point, so there’s a whole bunch of extra hurdles that wouldn’t be there if the students already had a device.

There was no point in asking the Education Department to send in devices as they were unlikely to arrive until the lockdown was over, Liddall said, but she believed the government should do more to bridge the digital divide.

The principal of ÅŒtahuhu elementary school, Jason Swann, prepared paper resource files for his students.

Packages would be sent to all families in schools because their internet access was so varied that he could not rely on online learning, he said.

It was very different from the situation for many other schools.

“You just have to watch the media coverage on TV and in general there will be kids sitting at home on their breakfast bar all one on one and learning and that’s not our reality, our reality is. far from it.

“We have parents … the only connectivity and the only device they have is their cell phone.”

He said these students were disadvantaged.

“When you have a learning pack and it’s a paper learning pack, you don’t necessarily have to interact with your teacher if you want to question specific issues or research.”

The digital divide was a widespread problem among schools and Swann was frustrated that nothing had been done to address it since the national and Auckland lockdowns last year.

Albany High School principal Claire Amos started a petition on the first day of the lockdown calling for free or subsidized devices for schoolchildren.

She was part of a government reference group that recommended solutions in 2014 and was frustrated that the issue still had not been resolved.

“It frustrates me enormously that we are still sitting here seven, eight years later and seeing young people being sent photocopied documents in yet another lockdown. I just think the time has come when we need to address this issue and fix it. once and for all, ”Amos said.

Some schools had so few students with devices that they didn’t do e-learning under normal circumstances and that wasn’t enough, she said.

The government didn’t need to give away free laptops, but there were other options like subsidized ownership, she said.

“I know some people will say, ‘What about the cost? », But what is the cost for our young people not to have these devices. What is the real cost if we have this protracted digital divide? It is in fact an easy problem to solve. need to put money behind it, get in there and fix it. “

Students needed to be connected not only for academic reasons, but also for the sake of their mental well-being, Amos said.

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