Coronavirus: Effectiveness of spend-up on learning TV questioned

A south Auckland college principal fears the growing digital divide is causing even more inequity in our education system.

Kia Aroha College in Otara has 185 students. During the level 4 lockdown, 97 percent of students did not have an internet connection at home or a device to learn at home.

The college's principal Haley Milne says the school applied to the Ministry of Education for support - but was forced to dig into its own pockets to pay for laptops, modems and internet plans.

"The simple statement of moving online wasn't a simple statement for us to enact."

Milne believes the lack of urgency in sending laptops and devices to the school sends a message to students that they don't matter.

"Because if we really mattered, communities like ours - and there's many communities like ours across the country - would have been a priority.

The school provides free lunches to students, and also supports families with food packages.

Milne says with Auckland currently at COVID-19 level 3 restrictions anxiety is even higher amongst students and the community.

"Our families who may have been able to survive on the wage subsidies are now facing redundancies and those support packages are running out."

The impact on the community is already being widely felt, with some students being forced to leave school to find work to support their families.

"I feel like that's an indictment on our system - young people shouldn't have to be faced with that decision ever."

The online teaching environment is also adding extra pressure on teachers. Milne says teachers are expected to be available 24/7, with students and parents constantly emailing them.

"Our homes are really busy, and we as staff are really clear that Zooming into people's homes is actually an intrusion."

The Government rolled out a $88 million education package in response to COVID-19, which included providing devices and internet connections for students to enable online learning. Funds were also spent on sending out hard packs of materials to students and setting up television channels to support at-home learning.

Milne feels the funding was a missed opportunity to spend money on what was truly needed.

"[If] we'd focus on laptops, modems and food, we may have spent a different amount of money or been able to reallocate those resources in a productive and meaningful way."