Land sale approved in return for iPad donation

Land sale approved in return for iPad donation

A sensitive land purchase near Queenstown was approved by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) on the basis the purchasers donate $100,000 to the local high school to fund iPads and laptops.

David Chuang and Lim Mee Len paid $2.7M for a 19-hectare piece of Arrowtown land, under the name Glenorchy Homestead Limited.

The pair are the wife and son of a man dubbed Singapore's Willy Wonka, John Chuang. He made his millions making chocolate, earning himself the title as Singapore's 33rd richest man.

The sale was only given the green light by the OIO when the company agreed to give a donation to the Wakatipu High School Foundation to "provide financial assistance or hardship allowances for students at the school".

Decile 10 Wakatipu High School has a compulsory "bring your own device" policy and, despite being one of the richest schools in the country, some students' parents can't afford devices.

In a letter to the OIO, the school's principal, Steve Hall, said 70 percent of the 850 students wouldn't need assistance to purchase devices, while 5 percent would need the full cost of devices to be covered. The rest would need the cost to be partially covered.

He explained that about $70,000 of the sum would go toward assisting parents to buy devices, and $30,000 would go toward training teachers.

"In addition to the funding assistance required for families for devices, professional learning for staff will need to continue in order to prepare staff to provide the best possible learning experiences for students," he wrote.

Labour's education spokesman, Chris Hipkins, says if one of the country's wealthiest schools needs help to buy equipment, there's not much hope for other New Zealand school kids.

"Schools shouldn't be having to rely on this sort of contribution from wealthy overseas investors in order to get kids the tools they need to learn.

"Imagine what it's like in the low decile schools; they really, really struggle. "

Mr Hipkins said freeing up land to investors in return for this sort of educational funding is questionable.

"I think it is a bit dodgy. It certainly doesn't look good. The Government should be funding the education system so it can meet the needs of the kids."

Associate Minister of Education Nikki Kaye says schools are best placed to make the decision on if and how they provide digital services for students.

"It's important to note that while schools can ask parents to buy a digital device for the children to use at school, they can't require them to.

"The Education Act provides New Zealand students with the right to a free education, and students cannot be denied access to learning opportunities because they don't have the right equipment."

Ms Kaye says the Government has invested $200 million in the N4L Managed network, which provides participating schools with high-speed, uncapped internet access.

"With this Crown-funded internet, schools don't have to fund their own internet connections and data, and they may choose to use the money saved to invest in other areas, such as buying devices."

In 2014, the Government was told it needed to set up a fund for subsidising technology for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but it hasn't.