A $15,000 grant from BayTrust has given the green light to a digital connectivity programme in Murupara which will drastically boost internet access at home for local school children.
The "Murupara Connectivity" initiative by Te Aka Toitū Trust will provide free unlimited filtered internet access in up to 160 homes so children can log into Murupara Area School's network and access homework and assignments they need to complete.
Statistics New Zealand estimated 40 per cent of households in Murupara did not have internet access (even though it was available) – twice the national average of those who missed out.
"This will make a huge difference for our children's education because learning for them isn't between 8.30am and 3pm. It should be anywhere, any time, and it should be at their own pace. This gives them the ability to do that," the trust's project manager Keld Hunia said.
"This will also strengthen the Murupara community. Where there's internet in the house, everyone benefits from it."
The "filtered" aspect of the connectivity project meant the students could not go on social media, play games like Fortnite or shop online. Access would only be granted to websites that met the school's approved criteria.
The project would cost $55,000 in total, with other community funders also contributing alongside local iwi Ngāti Manawa. The grant from BayTrust was the final amount the trust required for the project to proceed in the coming months.
Three special repeater towers had already been installed in the hills surrounding Murupara and on the Galatea plains to create a grid covering the town. This grid would capture the school's existing broadband signal and spread it further afield.
"The next step is to install CPE devices on the roof of people's homes. They look similar to a Sky dish, only smaller. That will provide that home with unlimited filtered access to the internet free of charge," Hunia said.
A public information evening would be held at Murupara Area School in early May to outline the next steps for local families who are interested in signing up.
Hunia said the funds from BayTrust would be spent on buying and installing the CPE devices as well as purchasing Chromebooks to give to families in need.
"We want families to have some skin in the game as well, so we'll be asking them to buy their own Chromebooks. But if they have three or four children and need multiple devices, they will be asked to buy the first two and we will supply the rest."
The trust had also partnered with First Credit Union to help underwrite loans for those families who needed to borrow funds so everyone can buy the digital devices they need.
BayTrust chief executive Alastair Rhodes said bridging the "digital divide" that existed in some communities would provide local students with equal opportunities in today's tech-savvy world and help deliver on BayTrust's vision of making this region "the greatest place to be"'.
"Te Aka Toitū Trust are doing a fantastic job of addressing this problem and ensuring all our students can benefit from today's digital learning environment, regardless of whether their families can afford internet access or not. We're excited to see this project unfold."