Educational TV is on again in Auckland today, but about 70,000 school students still do not have computers at home as the city heads into another 12 days of online learning.
Ministry deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid said the English-language Home Learning Papa Kāinga TV and Māori-language educational channels launched in the last lockdown "will be back to support learning for children aged 2 to 11 years starting on Monday".
"We also have hard packs that can be deployed for children and students if needed," she said.
The ministry has also distributed free computers to just over 26,000 of the 98,029 school students who did not have suitable devices at home when the country first went into lockdown in March.
But ministry head Iona Holsted has told schools this week that the money earmarked for devices in an $87.7 million package to support learning at home in the Covid-19 pandemic has now been spent.
"We have delivered over 25,000 new laptops and Chromebooks to students. At present, there is no further funding available for provision of additional devices," she said.
The ministry told Education Minister Chris Hipkins on July 29 that it gave priority to students in Years 11-13 and "the majority of device demand in has been met across all deciles for this cohort".
"A total of 53 per cent of requested devices for students in Years 9 and 10 across all decile levels have been fulfilled. Most of the remaining demand for devices is within the
primary school sector," it said.
"While the ministry has supported a significant number of students through provision of these devices, the remaining unmet demand expressed by schools and kura [especially in the primary sector] is significant, at around 70,000 devices."
Low-decile Auckland schools told the Weekend Herald that they are frantically photocopying printed learning packs for students who still don't have the gear to learn online.
Kiri Turketo of Ōtara's Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate said she received fewer than 200 of the 400 devices she requested through the ministry scheme - enough for all students in Years 12 and 13 but only for about half of Year 11 students and none for Years 9 and 10.
"We are preparing hard-copy materials for the others. As I speak, staff and the senior leadership team are furiously doing hard copies," he said.
Turketo has applied to charitable trusts and companies to fund computers for the students who still need them, but so far without success.
Davida Suasua of nearby Tangaroa College said staff were distributing devices to senior students who live close to them and preparing workbooks for Years 9 and 10.
"We have only basically planned for two weeks at the moment for our juniors. Anything over that, we'll be struggling."
Greg Pierce from Aorere College said he was also distributing devices to Years 12 and 13 but said: "The reality is that we still do not have sufficient stock of devices to ensure that all of our 850 students in the senior school have an individual device each."
Grant McMillan of James Cook High School is also prioritising the senior students for devices and producing workbooks for Years 9 to 11.
Ōtāhuhu College principal Neil Watson said he was sending devices out to Years 11-13 students by courier, but was using printed packs for Years 9 and 10.
"With the Year 9 and 10s we actually found the old-fashioned method was actually more effective," he said.
"That decision was made after we reviewed what happened last time. The feedback from students and families was that hard copies of work was preferable in the junior school."
Ronnie Govender of Manurewa's Ferguson Intermediate said he has also decided to issue workbooks this time.
"From our experience our Year 7 and 8 students did not make productive use of the devices and we will not be issuing devices this time," he said.
But Jerry Leaupepe of Māngere's Sir Douglas Bader Intermediate said public discussion was needed on how to provide affordable devices to intermediate students so that they would be ready for high school.
Tāmaki College principal Soana Pamaka said 80 per cent of her students have devices provided at cheap rates through the Manaiakalani Trust.
"As a Manaiakalani school our students can access the internet via access points spread out in our community on top of power poles, however there is a small percentage for whom internet access remains a challenge," she said.
Māngere College principal Tom Webb is also producing work booklets for Years 9 and 10 and computers only for Years 11-13. But he said neither system was ideal.
"I think all of our students are going to be disadvantaged in some way," he said.
"What we found last time is that they really appreciated coming back to school because they need the environment in the school and the interaction with friends and teachers to be able to really learn well."
Manurewa High School's Pete Jones said all his senior students and most junior students have devices but about 150 do not, including new students who have arrived from Australia because their parents have lost jobs in the Covid recession.
"In the first two weeks of this term we have done 26 enrolments, quite a number of those from Australia," he said.
He said New Zealand would face "a massive cost" in reduced learning unless long-term measures were taken to address the "digital divide".
"It's something that is really going to affect our kids," he said.
"It's the same with all the food support we get from KidsCan and Kiwi Harvest. In this day and age we should not be having to rely on charity to provide basic needs, and in this digital era I would say that's a basic need too - there is no job you can walk into that doesn't have a requirement for digital skills."
The ministry's July 29 report acknowledged that "much more needs to be done to truly close the digital divide".
"We also know that this problem is not unique to the education system and that real change needs broader collaboration across both social and private sectors," it said.
"The ministry will continue to work with industry and other agencies and partners to address this challenge as part of the Equitable Digital Access programme."
MacGregor Reid said "a small number" of devices ordered were still to go out and "that will happen in the next week".
"With Auckland remaining in level 3, we are working to ensure that all students in that region are well-supported and have at least one option to help them with distance learning," she said.
She said a range of online courses remained available to support distance learning "until the end of February 2021 at this stage".
"We are introducing content for students in Years 7-10 for the Auckland region, given the change in alert level," she said.
"As of July 31, 37,500 connections have been made or are in the process of being made, 15,500 are booked with internet service providers [ISPs] and we are working with our ISP provider to expedite connections within the Auckland region."