"240,000 students in New Zealand have no access to internet at all. Those kids are getting left behind."
So says Keld Hunia, Project Manager, Te Aka Toitū Trust, part of a group doing something about the digital divide in Murupara.
For many Kiwi kids, unlimited internet at home is something they take for granted. But for many Murupara school children, it's opening up a whole new world and closing that digital divide.
"We need to close that gap," Hunia said. "We need to address the disparity that exists in rural isolated schools. And this is the simplest and easiest way to do that."
The Murupara Connectivity project gives households unlimited internet access for free so children can continue learning outside school hours. An aerial on their roof receives internet from the school, which is filtered to only allow approved websites.
It's funded by several organisations, including local iwi.
"The runanga here in Murupara, Ngāti Whare and all other organisations have recognised that it's super important for them as an Iwi organisation to help educate their people," Hunia said.
Angela Sharples, Murupara Area School principal, hopes other schools in the area will get involved.
"A group of principals from the area here were concerned that our students didn't have access to digital learning resources in the way that children elsewhere in New Zealand did. We got together to look at how we could address that digital divide," she said.
"We're an area school so I have children right from new entrant to Year 13 and they've got really different learning needs. We have three learning hubs that are Years 1 to 4, 5 to 8 and 9 to 13, so that's secondary school."
Each of these hubs has a different level of internet filtering - pupils under 13 can't access social media sites at school or at home.
"It's all about the learning," Sharples said. "What are the resources that are right for that age of young person? And how should they be using the internet responsibly? This allows us to support whānau to have the focus on the learning."
The project is still in its early stages with some families wary of hidden costs and catches.
"They need to see that it's working and they need to see the resources that are available," said Sharples. "We need to make sure the focus is always on the students learning. It's not designed to be a system where students are on an iPad or device the whole time. Books, reading, oral language, play - all of those things are still incredibly important."
Those who are already online say the process is a piece of cake.
"It wasn't hard at all, wasn't scary," Pauline Teddy, Murupara resident, said. "It's just something we've got to get over at our age. We've got to say 'this is a new world so we all need to learn'."
And it's already making a big difference to the kids at her whare.
"It keeps them at home. It keeps them busy, busy all the time. They're on it and they don't want to leave. At night-time they don't want to go anywhere. After school they just want to get on their books and that's it. It's just going to make them better and it's going to make the home better."
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