The Government is about to start delivering computers to the doors of children who don't have devices for home learning during the lockdown period.
It comes as schools are gearing up to teach remotely when the new term starts next Wednesday.
A multi-pronged package to be unveiled this week will also include connecting low-income families to the internet, and hard-copy learning packs and an educational television channel for families still waiting to get online.
Senior high-school students studying for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), and the most disadvantaged families, will be given priority for both internet connections and devices.
But the internet rollout to about 80,000 families with school-aged children who currently have only cellphone access to the net will be slowed down by a global shortage of modems, so the Ministry of Education plans to use television as an interim solution.
The ministry told schools in a bulletin on April 2 that it was "exploring at pace the possibility of educational material being broadcast on TV".
It declined to provide more detail yesterday, saying: "There'll be a distance learning announcement this week, after which time we'll be able to provide you with up to date information."
State-owned Television NZ and Māori Television also declined to comment. Māori TV said: "I can confirm that we have a relationship with the Ministry of Education however any discussions we have with them remain confidential."
But NZ Educational Institute president Liam Rutherford said there was already a wealth of educational video content created by teachers around the country.
"The idea is that by next Monday they are hoping to have a TV station that will be displaying 24-hours-a-day content that will appeal to multiple year levels," he said.
Another source said two channels were available on Freeview, but it was unclear whether the ministry would opt to use one or both of them or arrange time on an existing channel.
Leanne Otene, principal of decile-1 Manaia View School in Whangārei, said she had sent school Chromebooks home to ensure that every family with children in Years 5 to 8 has a device for the lockdown, provided that they could be contacted.
But Rutherford said many schools did not have enough devices to go round, so the ministry has told schools that it will try to fill the gaps.
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"We are aware some schools have already released school owned devices or obtained additional equipment directly. For any remaining requirements we intend to ship a device directly to a student's lockdown address, and will be shipping devices on a school by school basis as stock becomes available," it said.
"As shipping and courier services are severely restricted, it may not be possible to arrange for the device and internet to arrive at the same time, however we will endeavour to co-ordinate this as much as possible."
Otene said 60 to 70 per cent of her families have no home Wi-Fi and could only access the internet on cellphone data plans, which would not be enough for a lot of educational material.
"They are all going on to Facebook, but they are not able to do a digital learning programme," she said.
The ministry has told schools that telecommunications companies "can tell us who is and isn't connected, so we can manage this process centrally".
Rutherford said the ministry was likely to work with a low-cost telecom provider which would fund the modems for needy families, and the ministry would then cover the cost of ongoing internet usage at least for the lockdown period.
Skinny, owned by Spark, has recently relaunched its Skinny Jump product which provides a free modem and a free initial 30 gigabytes of data and then charges a prepay fee of $5 a month.
However, with 91 per cent of the world's school children now affected by school closures, there is a worldwide shortage of modems as many countries race to provide online learning.
"This is a big job being delivered at pace and there are some immediate constraints around the stock of equipment in the country," the ministry has told schools.
"Not everyone who needs them will get internet access and digital devices at the same time. We will need to prioritise and reach students and households in tranches over time – with an initial focus on connecting students in senior secondary school working towards NCEA and those with greatest need due to disadvantage."
• Official advice: covid19.govt.nz.