There’s no doubt the internet has changed our education system and the way Kiwi kids learn – the trouble is, not everyone has access to it.
That’s why Te Aka Toitū Trust is working hard to bridge ‘the digital divide’ that exists in Eastern Bay of Plenty homes and give all students an equal opportunity in today’s tech-savvy world.
“Doing assignments and homework using pen and paper is a thing of the past,” explains Keld Hunia, the Trust’s project manager.
“Most schools now email or post homework online for students to download and complete. But those children who don’t have internet access at home or a digital device have no ability to do that and are missing out.
“Our Trust aims to achieve connectivity for those students in lower decile areas where those gaps exist.”
Six Eastern Bay schools have become involved with the Trust since it was launched in 2016 and Murupara Area School is next in line to receive help.
Statistics New Zealand figures show a staggering 40 per cent of households in Murupara do not have internet access – twice the national average of those who miss out.
Now a special ‘Murupara Connectivity Project’ is underway to boost internet access for local families and BayTrust has contributed the final $15,000 required to make it happen.
“We were super stoked to hear BayTrust had approved our grant application,” Keld says. “It meant we could go to the installers, the schools and local families to say we have the green light.”
The project will cost $55,000 in total, with other community funders also contributing alongside local iwi Ngāti Manawa.
Three special repeater towers have already been installed in the hills surrounding Murupara and on the Galatea plains to create a grid covering the town. This grid will capture the school’s existing broadband signal and spread it further afield.
“The next step is to install CPE devices on the roof of people’s homes. They look similar to a Sky dish, only smaller. That will provide that home with unlimited filtered access to the internet free of charge.”
Keld says children will be able to log onto their school network and access the work they need to complete – but the ‘filtered’ aspect means they cannot go on social media, play games like Fortnite or shop online.
“This will make a huge difference for our children’s education because learning for them isn’t between 8:30am and 3pm. It should be anywhere, any time, and it should be at their own pace. This gives them the ability to do that.
“But it’s not just about children’s education. This will strengthen the Murupara community. Where there’s internet in the house, everyone benefits from it and it can have some great economic spin-offs.”
When a similar project was organised in the nearby township of Minginui, it allowed the local nursery to connect to the internet which boosted online orders. “Eight people suddenly become employed to fill those orders where they hadn’t had work since the railway closed in the 1980s,” Keld says.
A public information evening will be held at Murupara Area School in early May to outline the next steps for local families who are interested in signing up.
Keld says the funds from BayTrust will be spent on buying and installing the CPE devices as well as purchasing Chromebooks to give to families in need. About 160 CPE devices will be available for distribution but the Trust is still working to establish how many families are likely to join the scheme.
“We’ll be rolling this initiative out in waves – firstly to those homes with no internet, then to those whose only access is via a smartphone. Finally, we’ll help those who have limited access or who don’t use an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for whatever reason,” Keld says.
“We want families to have some skin in the game as well, so we’ll be asking them to buy their own Chromebooks. But if they have three or four children and need multiple devices, they will be asked to buy the first two and we will supply the rest.”
The Trust has partnered with First Credit Union to help underwrite loans for those families who need to borrow funds so everyone can buy the digital devices they need.
“While internet access does already exist in Murupara, this scheme will allow families who can’t afford to pay a monthly invoice to an ISP to gain access to the internet for their children’s benefit.
“Once we’re done in Murupara, we’ll be looking to do the same thing in Kawerau so all our tamariki in the Eastern Bay can bridge that digital divide.”