Pack your laptop, we're off to $chool

By Ben Irwin, Nicholas Jones

The cost of uniforms and stationery seems to increase every year, and now some schools are asking pupils to bring their own tablets or laptops to class. Nicholas Jones and Ben Irwin report

Globally, more and more pupils are using mobile devices. Photo / Thinkstock
Globally, more and more pupils are using mobile devices. Photo / Thinkstock

A state primary school has recommended that children have an iPad for the upcoming school year, as an increasing number of schools add tablets or laptops to their back-to-school lists.

Waimauku School in West Auckland has held an open evening for parents on the policy and arranged a special night at the local Noel Leeming store for parents to purchase the $500-plus tablets.

Hundreds of schools across the country have implemented "bring your own device" (BYOD) policies, where students are either told or allowed to bring electronic devices such as iPads or laptops to assist their learning.

The trend, which cuts across rich and poor schools, has been labelled "inevitable" by principals. But it will add hundreds of dollars to back to school costs for some families, and together with hefty donations and pricey uniform and stationery - often the result of exclusive deals between schools and retailers - means a free education can be expensive.

From this year, senior students at Waimauku School, a decile 10 primary school with a roll of around 636, have been asked to bring a tablet device.

Principal Gary Pasfield said some parents were against the policy, with concerns raised about cost and online security. However, he believed most families realised the move was in line with developments in education. Bringing a device was voluntary, and the school would have pool tablets.

"There are cost and equity issues ... but no kids will be at a disadvantage by not having a machine. It's just having more kids being able to access information on the net."

Though the school has not mandated iPads, they have told parents that teachers will not be able to help those with alternative devices learn how to operate them. "[Teachers] and the kids are familiar with the iPads in class already. If a parent does ask, we recommend [an iPad], but we don't insist," Mr Pasfield said.

"The only thing is, if they bring an Android along, it's not the teacher's responsibility to be able to teach a kid how to use it. The expectation is if you bring your own device, you should know how to use it."

Orewa College's decision to bring in compulsory iPads caused controversy when it was announced in 2011. But such devices are increasingly being added to stationery lists for school children of all ages, with retailers prominently advertising back to school specials. Some schools are slowly introducing BYOD across year levels, with some not making it compulsory, and others allowing a wide range of devices.

This year all Year 10 students at Lynfield College will need a mobile device. Principal Stephen Bovaird said such a move was "inevitable" and would happen at all schools eventually. "If you look at what's happening globally, particularly in Australia and the States ... students are getting more and more of their information from mobile devices, and we just have to keep up with that."

All Lynfield's feeder schools were already using mobile devices, Mr Bovaird said. Students in Year 13 at his school were already using applications to analyse their golfing swing during PE lessons.

"We don't want kids coming to high school and dumbing down, in terms of their use of technology. We want students to be carrying on with the skills they have developed at primary and intermediate schools."

The decile 7 school had not recommended a specific device, but students would need one with at least a 7 inch screen, wi-fi capability, a camera and a battery that will last more than five hours.

The college had spoken to online retailer Cyclone Computers and local Noel Leeming and Harvey Norman stores, which had put on parent nights and offered specials.

Mr Bovaird said the school may have been given around 2 per cent on sales from one of the parent nights, but he could not remember details. It was not something that brought in much money, and many families already had a suitable device.

Previous New Zealand research on the bring your own device movement showed a high degree of buy-in from parents, but also highlighted risks such as security.

Dr Allan Sylvester, a lecturer at Victoria University's School of Information Management, and honours student Nathan Hopkins surveyed nine secondary schools about BYOD. One rural secondary school principal told the academics the school had four families without access to electricity, let alone digital devices.


How to save

• Check which uniform items are compulsory, and whether there is a uniform swap set-up at your school.

• Spread the cost over the school year - some items are not needed until different seasons, for example.

• See what items can be re-used from previous years - there's no point buying new ring-binders and other items.

• Many schools have deals with stationery or uniform suppliers, but often it is not compulsory for parents to take part and there are better prices at other retailers.

• But remember a cheaper substitute might not work as well or run out/break down quicker.

• Arrange a "stationery swap" with other families to make use of items you both have too much of.

• Label all items - they can be too expensive to lose.

• Schools might recommend devices, such as iPads, for "bring your own device" programmes. But cheaper models might be suitable and less costly to replace or upgrade.

- Source: Consumer NZ


Ishani, 13, has just begun Year 9 at Macleans College. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ishani, 13, has just begun Year 9 at Macleans College. Photo / Dean Purcell

Forking out for fees and clothes leaves family with little to spare

Mother-of-two Komal Mathur has spent the past six months saving money just so she can get her kids to school this year.

Mrs Mathur's two children attend Macleans College in Bucklands Beach, with 17-year-old Shyamolie heading into year 13, while 13-year-old Ishani is embarking on her first year at the school, year 9.

Like most parents, Mrs Mathur and her husband Shyam have been hit with a horde of back-to-school bills in recent weeks. Payments the family had to meet included school donations, new uniforms, stationery, school camps and bus fees.

Mrs Mathur said it had been hard to make ends meet. "It's a bit of a tough time, it's a bit of a stretch actually," she said. "It gets pretty stressful sometimes."

The combined school donation for both her kids was close to $900. On top of that, stationery would cost almost $200 for Ishani and $65 for Shyamolie. Mrs Mathur also had to buy a new uniform for first-year pupil Ishani. She had already spent $200 on Ishani's summer uniform, not including shoes.

All up, the Mathurs will spend more than $1,800 just getting their kids back to school. To achieve that, Mrs Mathur had been setting aside money since last July. "I started budgeting a little bit, putting aside bit of money every month," she said. Even with six months of saving, the next three months would see a "shoestring budget" in the household. "There will be no extras, no luxuries."

And even after that, the bills would keep stacking up. "Come May they'll have to have the winter uniform and I don't even want to think about it (having to buy it)."

The winter uniform included a $135 Scottish kilt, $56 long-sleeve T-shirt and a $100 cardigan.

"Unfortunately for me my kids are different sizes so I don't have much leftover (clothes) to use," Mrs Mathur said.

Macleans principal Byron Bentley said the school recognised the financial stress some parents were under at this time of year. Parents could pay school donations and fees over a period of time. The school also had a large uniform shop with many second-hand items available. "Schools are very sympathetic to genuine hardship, you'll find they will be prepared to assist and help out."

- NZ Herald

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