By REBECCA WALSH and ROSALEEN MacBRAYNE
Many of the computers in the country's classrooms are paid for by international students' fees.
A Herald survey has found that most state secondary schools have, on average, one computer for every five to 10 students.
But principals say Government finance is inadequate and many are becoming increasingly reliant on fee-paying students - a booming market in New Zealand - to pay for technology in their schools.
Education Minister Trevor Mallard agreed schools were not adequately resourced but said "it was one where you will never, ever get there" because of constant advances in technology.
Of the 60 schools that responded to the Herald survey, Piopio College in the King Country had the best computer/student ratio with one computer for every three students.
In contrast, St Paul's College in Auckland had one computer for every 14 students. The computers throughout the schools ranged in age from new to 11 years old.
Martin Elliott, principal of Hamilton's Fraser High School, said he would be running a "third-world, Bosnian-type school" if it wasn't for donations from parents and the fees from international students.
The main problem was keeping up with computer technology.
Next year the school aimed to enrol 50 to 55 international students who would fork out $8500 each.
Ministry of Education figures show that between 1993 and 2000 the number of international fee-paying students nearly quadrupled. In 1993, they totalled 1824. By 2000, that figure had jumped to 7191. The bulk of these (6506) were from Asia.
Mr Elliott believed students were being disadvantaged by a lack of resources.
"If we want our kids to grow up to be computer-literate we need more computer hardware in our schools, set up in pods in faculty areas so computers become a normal part of the learning process.
"Until we can afford that, it's going to be a luxury."
Glenfield College principal Warren Seastrand said "an ethos of do it yourself" had been operating.
Four years ago the school drew on the celebrity status of former student Rachel Hunter, who gave a talk on personal presentation to raise funds for its technology centre.
The $9500 fees from the school's 90 international students also helped.
Like many schools, Piopio College used recycled computers and income from a Telecom sponsorship deal to pay for new technology, said principal Brian Tegg.
Allan Peachey, principal of Rangitoto College, said while some believed the Government should be spending more - in 1999 a one-off $25 million was earmarked for technology and since then $10 million has gone into the operations grant each year - he did not think that was realistic.
He estimated it cost $250,000 to run the school's computer system each year. That covered maintenance, upgrading and the salaries of two systems managers.
But he warned against judging the education a school provided by the number of computers it had.
"I don't think schools should be investing in highly expensive hardware to teach complex computer programs. That's the job of tertiary institutions."
But Mr Mallard believed it was vital that students had the option of working towards a secondary school computer qualification.
At the moment, School Certificate and Bursary computer courses were not available but under a new qualification - the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, which starts next year - students would be able to choose computer studies in the same way they chose English and mathematics.
The ministry would continue its programme to recycle computers into schools.
A digital opportunities programme - a partnership with business which aimed to increase access to computers and raise student achievement - was due to start in 30 schools.
* In the eastern Bay of Plenty, the 2020 Communications Trust is providing computers, printers, software and internet connections to the Tuhoe Educational Authority, which will put them into the homes of 50 families.
Computers handed over yesterday will initially go to three small schools, at Kutarere, Waiotahi and Waimana, in the Tuhoe tribal area between Whakatane and Opotiki.
The full programme will see 150 donated computer packages in place by July, with volunteers providing technical support, training and guidance under a mentoring scheme developed by the trust.
Computers in Homes started among families of children attending Cannons Creek School in Porirua and at Panmure Bridge School in Auckland.
Researchers are finding that parents often spend more time online than their children, says Viv Hall-Ramsay of the Renaissance Corporation, which has donated some of the computers.
A number of parents have found jobs as a result of their new technology skills.
A Ministry of Education representative, Joe Doherty, who works with the 2020 Communications Trust, says the programme has been highly successful in developing self-esteem and self-confidence as well as an understanding of technology.