James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Schools put tablets on stationery lists

Principals see devices as integral to learning but others warn of burden from extra expense.

More and more schools see individual devices as necessary and some see parents benefiting too.  Photo / APN
More and more schools see individual devices as necessary and some see parents benefiting too. Photo / APN

Children are increasingly being asked by schools to take digital devices to their lessons, amid warnings that the trend is piling more financial pressure on parents.

St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton has made tablet computers compulsory for its year 9 students, while Orewa College has made internet-capable devices mandatory for all its year 8, 9 and 10 students.

Orewa College principal Kate Shevland said such devices were "absolutely" the future and her school's push had wider backing from students' parents.

"It is quite a big commitment for schools which is why we have had quite a lot of interest in what we have done."

The school does not provide a lease-to-buy arrangement on devices but guides parents in the direction of suppliers. Last year the decile 9 school provided devices for six of its 320 year 9 students on a loan scheme.

But Darryl Evans of the Mangere Budgeting Service said digital devices added extra financial pressure on parents already burdened with costs for uniforms, shoes, stationery and fees - often for more than one child.

"The problem is parents have so many other things they need to buy at this time of year, it's problematic and it's not going to get any easier."

However, Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor saw no reason to make digital devices mandatory for his students.

"It's a specific style of education and we would like to think however we incorporate smart devices or digital technology it would really be about using it as a tool in amongst our current practices.

"They have so much access to it outside of seven 40-minute lessons of the day that not having it for each one of those lessons may actually make them more focused on the lessons at hand."

A report released in December by Parliament's education and science committee recommended that it consider introducing a policy that every student have access to a digital device for learning.

Principals Association president Patrick Walsh said government intervention would be necessary for "priority learners", mainly Maori and Pacific Island children in low decile schools who will find digital devices hugely expensive.

"They would benefit the most from the issuing of a laptop or an iPad because it's those homes that often don't have a ready supply of books and learning material".

He said Maori and Pasifika parents often didn't have well-developed skills in IT so if children brought home an iPad or laptop it would also provide a learning opportunity for the parents.

A Ministry of Education spokesman said the Government had invested $1.5 billion in ultrafast broadband and set up the Network for Learning to provide ultrafast broadband to 97.7 per cent of all New Zealand schools. Remaining schools in some remote rural areas will be given access to satellite services.

Decile 1 rides digital wave

Children in some of Auckland's poorest suburbs are riding the digital wave thanks to a programme providing rent-to-buy laptops for students.

Russell Burt, principal of the decile 1 Point England school, said 700 Google chromebooks will shortly be distributed among 11 schools around the Tamaki-Glen Innes area.

Mr Burt said all of these schools had benefited from the Maniakalani Education Trust, which provides a rent-to-own arrangement where parents pay $3.50 a week for their children's laptops over a three-year period.

The trust also expects to complete the Tamaki Learning Network, which will provide free wireless internet access for children on the programme.

Mr Burt said the scheme has had "pretty much a 100 per cent take-up".

"I think the reason it's been successful, quite apart from the fact we are helping people to pay in a very affordable way, is we did a lot of due diligence and community consultation to make sure that kids were happy with what the items were and the parents were too."

He said the programme, worth $4.5 million over three years - more than a third of which is paid for by parents - provided choices in a community where the average income is $19,000.

- NZ Herald

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