A million Kiwi kids start a new school term today locked out of their schools and early childhood centres because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Most are expected to learn online thanks to a massive distribution of free computers and internet connections which one low-decile school principal describes as a long-term "game-changer".

Two educational television channels will kick off at 9am, one fronted by Suzy Cato on TVNZ2+1 and one on Māori TV's Te Reo channel. Māori TV's service will run for 10 weeks - a sign that normal schooling is unlikely to resume in a hurry after the current lockdown ends.

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But some low-decile principals worry that some students will still miss out because schools have lost contact with them.

Tangaroa College principal Davida Suasua worries that the school has lost contact with some families. Photo / Supplied
Tangaroa College principal Davida Suasua worries that the school has lost contact with some families. Photo / Supplied

Decile-1 Tangaroa College principal Davida Suasua has given the Ministry of Education a list of 300 students who still need computers, out of her roll of just over 800, after already distributing the school's existing 75 devices and buying 18 more for health science students before the ministry offer was unveiled.

But she said many other families have not responded to messages.

"They change their numbers as much as they change their teeshirts, so having a contact number that is contactable, that in itself is another concern," she said.

"We normally go round and visit, but we can't do that. We don't know how many of our students have been moved out of housing, we had a few that were in emergency housing.

"We don't know what this is going to look like, how many students will return - a lot of families have lost their jobs and our students might be told to get out and find a job rather than come back to school."

Education Ministry chief digital officer Stuart Wakefield said the ministry aimed to provide devices and home internet in the next four weeks to all 20,000 students in Years 11 to 13 who don't have them, and believes that a total of up to 145,000 students in 82,000 households will need them across all age groups.

Both devices and internet are being delivered first to students sitting national exams this year in their last three years of high school, starting with schools in the lowest income deciles.

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Harry Savage, 5, is ready to learn online from today with an iPad his parents bought for the purpose. Photo / Alan Gibson
Harry Savage, 5, is ready to learn online from today with an iPad his parents bought for the purpose. Photo / Alan Gibson

Harry Savage, a 5-year-old Year 1 student at Tauranga's decile-9 Bethlehem College, is ready to start learning on an iPad bought for the purpose.

"We had been reluctant to have an iPad in the house, as Harry just loves grabbing tablets from his older cousins or Poppa to play games," said dad Jared Savage.

"But with the schools shut, and we don't know how long for, I ended up ordering one online when Noel Leeming was allowed to sell 'essential' items simply to maintain contact with his teacher and the online lessons.

"The school uses the Seesaw app, during 'normal' school time, to share with parents what their kids have been up to during the day, sharing videos or photos, as well as sending messages or notices directly to parents.

"During the first few days of the lockdown, and the last few weeks of holidays, Harry's teacher has been posting videos of her talking to the kids, they've been sharing photos, or links to different lessons for reading and maths, ideas for drawing pictures, or even just questions or ideas to talk about with Harry."

Bream Bay College principal Wayne Buckland bought 100 Chromebooks for families that needed them just before the lockdown. Photo / John Stone, File
Bream Bay College principal Wayne Buckland bought 100 Chromebooks for families that needed them just before the lockdown. Photo / John Stone, File

Wayne Buckland, principal of decile-5 Bream Bay College near Whangārei, said he bought 100 Chromebooks just before the lockdown to distribute to families that didn't have suitable devices in his roll of 580.

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"We configured them between 3pm and 4pm on the Wednesday of the lockdown and passed them out through the windows of cars between 4pm and 5pm," he said.

"We had 20 families without internet. We have arranged 20 connection packs, the last one is being delivered today (Tuesday).

"We did fully online teaching on the Thursday and Friday after the lockdown [before school holidays] and we had 83 per cent and 87 per cent attendance, and we'd be expecting attendance in the high nineties tomorrow (Wednesday)."

Aorere College principal Greg Pierce:
Aorere College principal Greg Pierce: "For schools like us, it could be game-changing." Photo / Jason Oxenham, File

Greg Pierce, principal of decile-2 Aorere College in Papatoetoe, has asked the ministry for devices for 500 of his 850 students in Years 11 to 13.

"About a third of our students have a device. Two-thirds don't," he said.

"We still think there are probably 10 to 15 per cent who have no connectivity. So we have given all of that information to the ministry, and we have been informed that the telcos are all set up to start connecting households and that there should be connectivity for the vast majority of households within the next two weeks.

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"The understanding is that the student gets the device in the interim, but they are a school resource and the expectation is that when the school comes back the devices will come back with the students. For schools like us, it could be game-changing."

But he said face-to-face relationships between teachers and students were also crucial in low-decile schools, and many students were not well placed to learn at home.

"I'd say more than 50 per cent would live in overcrowded conditions," he said.

Southern Cross Campus principal Robin Staples says unstable living situations will complicate providing internet connections for many students. Photo / Simon Collins, File
Southern Cross Campus principal Robin Staples says unstable living situations will complicate providing internet connections for many students. Photo / Simon Collins, File

Robin Staples of decile-1 Southern Cross Campus in Māngere has asked for devices for about half of his students, but said unstable living situations would complicate internet connections.

"We know some kids are going to different parents at different times," he said. "That is quite difficult to manage for connectivity."

Home learning Q&A

Q. How much time should children be learning online?

A

. Children are not necessarily expected to study from 9am to 3pm as they would at school.

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Hobsonville Point Primary School says young children actually spend only part of the school day in concentrated individual learning. It recommends one to two hours for Years 0 to 4, two and a half hours for Years 2 to 6 and three hours for Years 4 to 8. (Years overlap because children learn at different rates).

Q. Should they follow a strict timetable?

A. Many schools, especially at secondary level, are maintaining subject timetables when teachers will be available online for particular classes. But others are not; it depends on the school.

Q. Who will get free internet connections?

A. The Ministry of Education has identified 82,000 households with school-aged children who don't have home internet. It has all student addresses from schools and has identified those without internet from the records of all telecommunications companies.

About 20,000 of these households with children in Years 11 to 13 will get internet and devices in the next four weeks, with the rest following later.

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The ministry will pay the full costs of a package that supports students' online learning for six months. Families will not be able to choose which package they get.

Books and learning material are being rushed out to children unable to learn over the internet during the pandemic. Video / Ministry of Education
Q. Who will get free computers?

A.

Schools have given the ministry lists of students who need devices. The ministry will pay for and insure the devices and will gift them to the students' schools. Each school will decide whether families need to return them when normal schooling resumes.

• More details: learningfromhome.govt.nz; Ki Te Ao Mārama; covid19.govt.nz.