Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Tech trend a dilemma for schools

Critics say asking students to bring own devices puts pressure on struggling families, backers say it closes gaps.

Calvin Smith, 11, works on his computer during class at Pt England School.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
Calvin Smith, 11, works on his computer during class at Pt England School. Photo / Sarah Ivey

More students are being asked - or told - to bring their own tablets, laptops or smartphones to class as schools grapple with how best to manage the cost for parents.

The "bring your own device" - BYOD - movement is a hotly debated topic in education circles, with some worrying the trend will put unfair cost pressures on parents and widen the gap between "haves" and "have nots".

Orewa College's decision to bring in compulsory iPads caused controversy when it was announced in 2011.

Even when BYOD is not compulsory, concerns remain that the devices will be linked with status and pressure families into spending more. Backers argue the policy helps to bridge the "digital divide" between poor and wealthy communities.

Howick College, a decile 10 school, has introduced a voluntary BYOD programme this year. Principal Iva Ropati said the launch had gone well, and the programme was necessary.

"We certainly wouldn't be waiting for the Government to support us. This is ... fast becoming a regular piece of school equipment."

Mr Ropati said accessibility was an issue his and other schools would need to grapple with.

Other schools are gearing up for BYOD programmes next year. Last month, decile 6 school Rosehill College held an information session for parents, with staff from PBTech, New Era IT and Acer Computers talking about devices and costs.

New Zealand research on the bring your own device movement is being presented in Europe.

Last year Dr Allan Sylvester, a lecturer at Victoria University's School of Information Management, and honours student Nathan Hopkins surveyed nine secondary schools about BYOD.

The results showed a high degree of buy-in from parents, but also highlighted risks such as security.

One rural secondary school principal told Dr Sylvester that the school had four families without access to electricity, let alone digital devices.

Mr Hopkins said that used correctly, BYOD offered great learning possibilities, but such issues needed to be acknowledged.

"Perhaps kids can't even afford lunch ... you could argue those that have the technology will progress at a faster rate than those that don't have it."

Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons, principal of Picton's Queen Charlotte College, a decile 4 school, said BYOD was beneficial, no matter how wealthy a school's community.

About 30 per cent of his school's Year 7 students had no access to broadband at home. Yet most of those same students had smartphones.

"We have 150 computers at the school ... Those kids who have got BYOD, they free up access for other students."

Internet beamed into students' homes

A world-leading project in which children in some of Auckland's poorest suburbs learn at school with their own computer has extended the internet into their homes.

Children at 11 schools in the Tamaki-Glen Innes area are publishing work using their own personal "netbook" computers - the cheapest possible device capable of online access.

Trialling payment systems found that in Tamaki, where the average income is $19,000 a year, the affordable cost is $3.50 a week for four years. Every family has taken up the offer at that price.

"We decided to reduce people's choice to increase their opportunity," said Pat Snedden, chairman of the Manaiakalani Trust, which manages the project.

With the help of Fusion Technologies, internet capacity not used outside school hours was diverted to students' homes through aerials on street lamps - delivering broadband to the child's netbook for less than $3 a month per house.

Mr Snedden said the trust was talking to schools in other areas of the country about using such a programme, and was giving away the associated intellectual property.

- NZ Herald

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