Schools want funds for digital gear

KERRY MCBRIDE AND JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2013
James Robiony-Rogers
ROSS GIBLIN/ Fairfax NZ
UP WITH THE TIMES: James Robiony-Rogers, 9, enjoys using iPads at Amesbury School.

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The prospect of every pupil having a touch screen tablet or laptop in the classroom has raised concerns it could create a gulf between the haves and have-nots.

Parliament's education and science committee issued its inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy last month.

The report contained 48 recommendations, including that every child should have access to a digital device in school, such as an iPad.

But Wellington principals said stronger financial support from the Ministry of Education was needed before schools could implement IT upgrades.

Amesbury School principal Lesley Murrihy said the ministry needed to make provisions so schools were able to invest in the required resources and technology.

"The advantages are huge and getting children regular access to online resources is becoming essential. The risk if we don't is that we will end up with a divide between the haves and have-nots."

The primary school, which opened last year in Wellington, has tablets and laptops available to pupils, and encourages teachers and pupils to store work or teaching resources in cloud-based applications such as Google Drive to enable home access.

It meant the school could teach children in their own learning language, Dr Murrihy said.

"At the moment it seems schools are faced with two competing messages. They would like to make strides in digital learning, but don't feel the support is there from Government to take risks with their curriculum."

The benefits of digital learning were obvious for Amesbury pupil James Robiony-Rogers, 9, who moved from a school with limited IT resources and now loved using Amesbury's supplied laptops and tablets.

"It's good to be able to learn things online and to check stuff at home as well," he said.

Massey University education professor Mark Brown said the world was now a heavily dominated digital environment.

"This is now the new normal . . . we can't expect that parents on their own are going to be able to respond by providing the type of technology that our children require. There's clearly a responsibility on the part of the government."

The proposed changes had the potential to be a "true game changer" for education, he said.

Wellington Girls' College principal Julia Davidson said giving learners access to online media, particularly sites such as YouTube, offered huge benefits in the classroom.

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"It means they can use technology at school just the way they use it in real life. They can share resources, research, and create content by using their own phones or tablets, or the school's."

The school's wi-fi system, installed last year, was a huge financial investment made with little government input, Ms Davidson said.

"We spend about a quarter of a million dollars a year for IT, and get maybe $40,000 from government. We're having to pay for broadband costs, computers and professional development. It's huge."

Despite the benefits, the cost would be a significant barrier for lower-decile schools to invest in digital learning, Ms Davidson said.

"It's all very well to say students should have iPads, but it's a real worry that it widens the gap between the kids who can afford it and the kids who can't."

But committee chairwoman and National MP Nikki Kaye said the proposals were an opportunity to lead the world in digital literacy.

"I think it's both beneficial at a social and economic level because if we can ensure that New Zealand students are the most digitally literate in the world, then they will have more opportunities both at an education level, but also at a job level."

Heretaunga College in Upper Hutt had also introduced school-wide wi-fi.

Principal Bruce Hart said the socio-economic differences between schools were a key factor in how well digital learning could be achieved.

"Access to such things is often tied to the area the school is operating in."

For that reason, any proposed policies needed to include financial support for schools to invest in IT systems and support, Mr Hart said.

"There needs to be a review of how school IT is funded . . . the resources to do it properly might not be there."

- The Dominion Post

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