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The growing digital divide

File photo.

The new school year is about to begin for hundreds of thousands of kiwi kids - but some will be starting the year from well behind and with no access to the same technology that many of their classmates will have. The digital divide in Aotearoa is as strong as always.

The digital divide in New Zealand is growing larger and as children begin a new school year a lot of parents will not be able to afford what is needed.

From laptop’s to accessories, software to equipment many New Zealand children from low and middle income families will not be able to afford the growing list of needs being set by schools and nowhere more is this seen than with Maori.

“The reality is we already have a digital divide in New Zealand and the data tells us that Maori are more disconnected than non-Maori but why should our kids be then left out in the cold because whanau cannot afford the growing list of technology requirements for them to be fully participating in the education system?" says the Maori Council's Matthew Tukaki.

"There is a rise in the bring your own device to school because there is no real budget for the provision of such equipment to kids who’s whanau just cannot afford it and by afford it I mean have a look at the total cost of sending a child to even a State school.

“If your child was born in 2007 they are now heading into high school – let’s assume that’s a dtate school. The ASG planning for education index tells us that the cost has per child has gone up by 15% to $33,274.

"Today, when they start school, they need the basics like uniforms, footwear, stationary. But now they also need a laptop or some other device. That’s about $450 for the cheapest version.

"Then they need antivirus software, office software of some description so let’s just add in another $100. Now let’s throw in the accessories such as a mouse and USB drive to store their documents on and we are up to another $50," says Matthew.

“That means the cost could be as high as $600 per child. Now – imagine you have two or three kids starting school and throw in everything else such as uniforms and stationary and the cost per child could be as high as $1000."

Matthew also outlined the cost of Internet access and remained concerned that many Maori communities in our regions still did not have the same internet connectivity as urban centers.

“This is of course not just a Maori community issue – this is an ongoing issue for our regions that have faced years of neglect under the previous Government even though they say they championed the regions.

"Well it’s not just the fact access to connectivity is low its also a question of affordability. By cutting off access either because of someone’s financial capacity or where they live is quite frankly saying your basic human right to be a participant in the digital economy is gone … and by the way so too is your kids access.

“We need to find a more affordable solution to the problem of digital access which is very much about who can afford what and when. We need to be creative."

Some of the things we could look at and invest in:

Ideas for Government:

  1. If we know we have an access and affordability problem then why not looking at boosting connectivity around a central hub – a Marae for example. Fund an after school program where whanau, tamariki and rangatahi can come together and access free WIFI and the internet and it could also be the base for equipment through a hardware program
  2. Look at free or standard universal access to the internet from specific devices that might be able to be funded through a schools program
  3. Ask the tax working group to investigate the cost benefit of deductions for all New Zealand parents and households when it comes to purchases related to hardware and software for school based activities and work
  4. Look at streamlining purchasing arrangements to allow the Ministry to create supply panels for hardware and software vendors whereby parents can source the lowest cost highest quality package for their kids

Tips for parents to keep the costs down:

  1. Most parents are part of family groups / have a look at forming a parents purchasing group where you can bulk buy for some products and ask for larger discounts. For example; if you each have a child starting at school that means you need five new laptops amongst you then ask a supplier to give you a bulk discount on both he hardware and the bundle of software needed. You can sometimes buy anti-virus software for five machines as well as office software. By sharing the cost you reduce the cost
  2. Have a look at buying second hand laptops from former corporate or business owners of hardware. Using online platforms such as Trademe or eBay you could get the same spec laptop with some software thrown in for as little as $200. They are called refurbished machines and there are hundreds it no thousands available.
  3. For Maori – don’t be afraid to call your local Whanau Ora provider, Hauora, community group or even Te Puni Kokiri office and ask of they have machines they could donate. If you don’t ask you’ll never know

New Zealand Maori Council has formed a national working group on education training that is Chaired by Raewyn Harrison, a member of Council’s National Executive.

About New Zealand Maori Council: New Zealand Maori Council is one of the nation’s oldest representative organisations with its own Act of Parliament, the Maori Community Development Act (1962) and represents Maori when it comes to social and economic affairs. Matthew Tukaki is the Executive Director of the Council, Chair of the Tamaki District Maori Council and Chairman of the National Maori Authority.


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