Schools blocked 300,000 attempts to access pornographic websites in a single month this year.
Ministry of Education associate deputy secretary Pauline Cleaver disclosed the figure for the month of March at a parliamentary committee hearing today on a petition by two Wellington High School students for better sex education in schools.
"We have heard from parents and young people about the increasing curiosity of young people at increasingly young ages," she told National MP Nikki Kaye during the hearing.
"We know that school sites are blocking, we know in one month that 300,000 searches were blocked from our school network. That tells us that children are curious, that they are seeking access.
"It tells us that safeguards and blocks are in place, but it means that we have to have community, parents, whānau and teachers feeling confident and skilful enough to have conversations about the harmful effects of pornography.
"That's not just an in-school issue or challenge. It's a broader societal issue or challenge."
Network 4 Learning, the state enterprise that provides internet access to schools, said the attempts to access porn sites were a tiny fraction of a huge number of attempts to access content that has been blocked to school users either nationally or by individual schools.
In May, N4L filtering tools stopped more than 399 million attempts to access inappropriate content.
Apart from porn, N4L also blocks all access nationally to sites depicting child abuse, discrimination, drug abuse, violence, extremist groups, illegal hacking, other illegal activities such as tax evasion, adult sexual material, malicious websites designed to damage users' systems and websites found in spam emails.
Its system also allows schools to block additional categories of material, and many schools choose to block social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.
N4L chief executive Larrie Moore said many of the attempts to access social media sites were from students' cellphones that are set to automatically update social media throughout the day, but are blocked while they are in school.
The network serves just over 800,000 students in 2500 schools, so the 300,000 searches that triggered blocked porn sites in March represented about one for every two or three students.
"We have to consider the context of multiple devices going into a school environment. It's on average more than one per child," he said.
Cleaver said some teachers were feeling ill equipped to teach children topics like consent, sexuality, sexual violence and the harmful effects of pornography.
She said sexuality guidelines used by teachers would be updated this year to include more information about those topics.