Coronavirus: Experts doubt feasibility of home learning amid COVID-19 pandemic

Although New Zealand has the digital infrastructure to support e-learning if schools are forced to close, not everyone has access to the necessary tools, an expert is warning.

"I think New Zealand will be able to cope with the capacity," Rush Digital founder Danu Abeysuriya told The AM Show on Tuesday. 

"In terms of broadband infrastructure, we're quite advanced."

His comments come as numerous countries around the world have suspended classes for school students. 

And now there are calls to follow suit in New Zealand.

Professor Michael Baker, an expert in public health at Otago University, told Newshub that the Government needs to seriously consider the measure if it wants to contain the spread of COVID-19.

"We need to look at school closures now and also even look at public transport,' he told Newshub on Tuesday.

Abeysuriya says technically the country has the digital architecture available for students to continue to learn from home if the drastic measure eventuates.

He said e-learning platforms have been proven to work in universities, bringing numerous benefits not found in traditional classes.

"There are fantastic tools for e-learning because it is a fantastic way to learn and it does have a lot of benefits - for example, all of your lessons are recorded so you can go back and revise, and one person can teach hundreds of people as opposed to just 30 in a class."

In practice, though, Abeysuriya said not all students had access to home internet or the other-often expensive tools needed to learn from home. 

There was also the risk that younger students, or those who need extra help to learn, will slip behind.

"There's a certain amount of self-discipline that's involved in that and I think for younger students, who do need a little bit of help and guidance and regular contact, it might be difficult," Abeysuriya said.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health began contacting schools around the country to check their capacity to cope with teaching students remotely. 

Ministry staff also met with school leaders to discuss the education sector's response to COVID-19.

Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Richard Dykes told RNZ that principals needed more information about possible scenarios before any concrete plans could be made.

"We hope they're not going to happen, at this stage schools are operating on business as usual, but we need to start doing some scenario planning because should that happen, and it's an 'if', we'd like to be prepared, not unprepared."