Laptops and tablets are compulsory items at majority of Auckland schools

Nearly four in five Auckland secondary schools now ask or permit students to bring a device such as a laptop or tablet - potentially adding hundreds of dollars to back-to-school costs.

"Bring your own device" - BYOD - has been hotly debated in education circles, with worries it will add financial pressure on parents and widen the gap between poor and rich.

However, a Herald survey of 81 schools with secondary-aged students in greater Auckland demonstrates how accepted the practice has become.

Seventy-eight per cent of schools now require or allow students in at least some year levels to bring a device to use in class.

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Exact policies vary between these schools, with 45 having a voluntary BYOD policy and 18 expecting at least some year levels to bring a device, which can be specified.

Higher-decile schools have generally been quicker to adopt BYOD, and decile 9 Orewa College's decision to bring in compulsory iPads caused controversy when it was announced in 2011.

However, four years later some schools that draw their students from poorer communities are adding expensive electronics to stationery lists.

One solo father, who recently became unemployed and has a daughter at a low-decile secondary school this year, asked if she could use his laptop but was told a $479 Chromebook was preferred.

"They have a special deal with Noel Leeming and they say that's what they should have.

"I know it's necessary for the work they do now at school, but don't think it's right that you have to stick to one brand."

The survey shows that most low-decile schools have opted for a voluntary policy that allows any device to be brought, including smartphones.

That is the case at decile 3 Papatoetoe High School. Principal Peter Gall said a majority of students brought a device, normally a smartphone.

"But if we expect students to use technology for whatever, then we provide [devices].

"It is a stretch, but we do the best we can."

Of the schools that have made it compulsory for students in some year levels to bring a device, 78 per cent are decile 7 or higher.

Reasons for schools not having BYOD (22 per cent of those surveyed) differ. Some, like Marcellin College, will implement a scheme shortly.

Wesley College, a decile 1 integrated school, provides some computers after deciding it would be unreasonable to ask families.

At Mission Heights Junior College, a Year 7 to 10 school which opened in Manukau in 2009, each student has an access card that logs them in to computers that are provided on a scale of one to every two students.

Principal Joan Middlemiss said the decile 7 school budgeted very carefully to provide the devices.

"We thought that if we were expecting the children to learn in that way then it was our responsibility to provide it."

Auckland student Evotia Fuimaono Alolua, , 17, used an iPad for most of her schoolwork in her final year at Avondale College last year. The teenager said teachers regularly held "smart lessons", in which pupils used gadgets to research online and complete assignments.

"It was easier because I'm not the type of person who's good at keeping things all in one place.

"At school, each student had a special folder under the school's wi-fi system.

"You just log on and write all your notes and assessments on there."

Miss Fuimaono Alolua - who will start her first year at the University of Auckland this semester - said if she could change one thing about using gadgets at school, it would be for teachers to be stricter about them.

"The tablets can be annoying because sometimes, when the teacher isn't looking, people will start playing games on them instead of doing their work.

"I just think teachers need to always look at what the students are doing."

Keeping it traditional

Photo / Supplied

Other high-decile schools have embraced "bring your own device" but Auckland Grammar has kept its distance.

Headmaster Tim O'Connor said the sought-after state school had not seen BYOD as a priority, and "in fact the D can stand for distraction for some young men starting their secondary schooling".

E-learning had a place at Grammar, Mr O'Connor said, and senior students who require a laptop for a course can bring it to school for use in that subject.

However, the number one tool for learning remained the school's quality teachers, their subject knowledge and the relationships they form with students.

"There is plenty of research to support such a focus on quality teaching and little research that supports the real benefits or validity of BYOD to enhance learning."

A current review of academic subject structure will review e-learning, Mr O'Connor said. Students were not currently allowed to use mobile phones on campus.

"This approach currently works well for us, giving teenagers a five-hour window which is free of smart devices, which their world is now full of.

"We respect other schools have teaching and learning priorities and philosophies that differ from ours and they do what they think is best for their school community."

Preparing students for a digital future

Moving with the times is hugely important at Mt Albert Grammar School.

This year, for the first time, the school asked that each of its new year 9 students have a digital device to use in the classroom.

Each pupil is asked to preferably have an iPad2 or above, an iPad mini or other tablet or laptop.

Headmaster Dale Burden said the introduction of the Bring Your Own Device policy to year 9s was about staying current.

"Kids learn in a whole lot of different ways and they're largely digital learners these days.

"If you go into a primary school ... you'll see that a lot of the learning opportunities and the engagement do take place by devices," he said.

"Devices will never replace teachers. But schools have to move with the times. They can't be bubbles - they shouldn't look anything like they did when we were at school, because we're preparing kids for today and tomorrow, not yesterday."

The school has worked to make sure its internet network is up to date and speedy; allowing each student to easily access the internet and their particular document files for each class.

"With the device ... you're able to have a look at science experiments, have a look at 3D diagrams and cross-sections in geography and all sorts of things like that."

The school has established payment schemes and also has a supply of tablets on loan to students who may not be able to purchase one of their own.

- Additional reporting Vaimoana Tapaleao