New project to teach Kiwi kids to refurbish computers which they can keep

The West Tech project plans to upcycle 1000 devices in the coming year.
The West Tech project plans to upcycle 1000 devices in the coming year. Photo credit: Kids working on a laptop

A new initiative hopes to reduce digital inequity between Kiwi primary school children by teaching them how to refurbish computers, which they can then keep.

The West Tech project is a partnership between Auckland Council's innovation unit The Western Initiative, youth development charity Zeal and hospitality group The Trusts, which is providing funding.

The initiative, which is to be implemented following a successful pilot programme, sources used laptops and desktop computers from businesses and households.

Government research suggests Māori, Pasifika and those living in social housing or with disabilities are the most digitally disadvantaged, with up to 150,000 students without internet access at home.

Secondary-aged children benefited from the provision of devices during the COVID-19 lockdowns, but children in primary school were left without access, said industry experts.

As part of West Tech, students as young as eight years old are taught how to diagnose issues, disassemble and then refurbish components in order to create an 'as-new' device. 

They are then gifted to the students, giving them refurbished tech products to help further their education. 

Zeal spokesperson Chris Winder said the pilot programme carried out across a partner primary school found participating students reported increased levels of self-confidence.

With just seven hours of learning time, students were able to learn to refurbish defunct devices, he said.

As laptops and PCs get older, bloated with software and crashing more often, they're often considered surplus to requirements.

Kids working on a laptop
Photo credit: West Tech

"At this point most devices would then be considered surplus to many businesses who will look to upgrade with a new product," Winder said.

"The devices will then usually enter the wastestream in some way, however most can be restored to their original condition or broken down for salvageable parts.

According to industry figures, only 2 percent of the 80,000 tonnes of electronic waste is recycled in New Zealand annually.

The project aims to upcycle over 1000 devices in the coming year, eventually increasing this to meet an estimated shortfall of 20,000 devices annually, significantly reducing waste.

"Part of our programme aims to show students the whakapapa of a device and the principles of a circular economy and will help them to return more devices to the community," Winder continued.

"Based on the first cohort of students that participated in our pilot, 90 percent will report feeling a growth in general personal confidence as well as feeling more skilled in technology than what they were previously."

Winder said the aim was to expand the programme further too, adding more componentry like graphics cards to support more students getting involved in graphic and game design careers.

Allan Pollard, CEO of The Trusts, said a series of workshops held in schools will also be provided for whānau to help address low rates of digital literacy.

They will be co-designed by whānau, helping to improve and share technology knowledge in the home," he said.

"Our support of this programme is designed to help reduce the widening digital divide that is seeing too many students left further behind in their educational development."

A parallel programme with local libraries will also increase access to internet connections in the homes of rangatahi, said The Trusts.