Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Schools told compulsory 'BYO device' policies are illegal

Education bosses are set to remind all schools that they can't enforce bring your own device policies on parents - even though a majority of Kiwi schools have now adopted them.

A survey by Network4Learning, which provides state-funded broadband to the country's 2500 schools, has found that 69 per cent of secondary schools and 49 per cent of primary schools had "BYO device" policies by late 2015. The survey is now being updated.

Many schools, such as Auckland's decile-7 Pakuranga College, now "require all year 9 students to include a digital device in their 'stationery' list".

But Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey said compulsory BYOD policies breached provisions in the Education Act guaranteeing a "free education" at state and partnership schools for all children from age 5 to 19.

"We will be reminding all schools that boards of trustees can ask, but can't compel, families to bring their own digital devices because schools can't deny a child's access to learning if their parents can't provide them one," she said.

"In these cases, boards need to provide access to a school device.

"No child's learning should ever be disadvantaged by a lack of access to technology."

Pakuranga College principal Michael Williams, who is also incoming chair of the Secondary Principals' Association, said his school used Pub Charity funds to help families who could not afford to buy devices after it introduced the BYOD policy in 2014.

"We buy some devices and give them to them, and the parents make a small payment over time," he said.

He said "a surprisingly small number" of families had taken up the charity money, and Pub Charity's $5000 a year had always been enough.

Williams said the college started with a voluntary BYOD policy in 2010 and ran separate classes for students with their own devices, who increased to about half of the junior school students by 2013.

The college then made the BYOD policy compulsory because it realised that all students would need to use the technology in the real world.

"We couldn't keep on ignoring it and pretending it doesn't exist," he said.

Casey said schools could not use their operational funding to help pay for family-owned devices, but could raise funds through their communities or philanthropic organisations.

Schools have taken many approaches to providing hardware for students, ranging from requiring parents to pay for devices through to voluntary BYOD policies, subsidised or leased devices, and providing school-owned devices.

At one end of the spectrum, the three children in the Mains family of Meadowbank, Auckland, do their homework on three different devices.

Max Mains does his homework on an i-Pad Air. Photo / Simon Collins
Max Mains does his homework on an i-Pad Air. Photo / Simon Collins

Max, 13, at decile-8 St Peter's College, works on an iPad using Microsoft's OneNote.

"You can download the textbooks," he said. "The only [printed] textbook I have is a science textbook, the others are i-books. It's much easier.

"The teacher can see every student, but we can't see them, and there is a page that everyone can see."

Zoe, 11, in her first year at decile-9 Baradene College, requires a Surface Pro, also with OneNote.

"It's the first school where I've had to have my personal device. It's fun," she said.

Mark Mains (foreground), brother Max (left) and sister Zoe (right) doing their homework at home in Meadowbank. Photo / Simon Collins
Mark Mains (foreground), brother Max (left) and sister Zoe (right) doing their homework at home in Meadowbank. Photo / Simon Collins

Youngest brother Mark, 8, who attends decile-10 Meadowbank Primary, does not have to have his own device but uses the family's desktop computer to do his homework, including spelling words.

"All my homework is on the computer, on Google Classroom," he said.

At the other extreme, decile-2 Colwill Primary School in Massey uses only school-owned computers.

"We do not allow them to bring their own devices," said board of trustees chair Maggie Scelly. "At this age we don't see it is advisable, especially in this area where money is an issue for parents."

Scelly runs a course for families who don't have computers and will get free devices through the 20/20 Trust's Computers in Homes charitable scheme. However its funding ends in June.

Kiri Davis, a solo mother of four, said she could not afford to buy a computer without the scheme.

"Even secondhand ones are not cheap," she said.

- Herald on Sunday

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