More low-income families to learn IT skills

More low-income families to learn IT skills

A PROJECT helping New Zealand’s poorest families gain IT knowledge is now looking to extend its reach. Computers in Homes (CIH) was initiated by the 2020 Communications Trust and relies on funding and support from the Ministry of Education, community groups and private business.

In 2004 CIH worked with 220 families and hopes to increase that by a further 400 this year.

The first project was launched back in 2000 and involved 25 families living in Cannon’s Creek, Porirua.

Reviews of the project show that the skills parents have learnt, such as word processing, email and using the internet, have translated into job skills or continuing education.

In many cases truancy rates have fallen as parents have become more active with their children’s school and home lives.

On top of this, each family involved agrees to teach another family member or friend the skills they have learnt, boosting confidence and spreading the impact into the community.

Since then the scheme has been rolled out around New Zealand, not only to low-income city families but also rural communities.

The package consists of hardware, a ten-week training course for parents, technical support and a six-month internet connection with the condition that parents complete the school-hosted training before the computer is installed in their home.

ISP Actrix provides families with special rates that can be continued after the six months.

National coordinator Di Das estimates the average cost of delivering the package at between $1,000 and $1,500 per family, and says any funding from the Ministry of Education has to be specifically targeted.

Das says it’s the magic of the scheme that first attracted her to the position and keeps her committed.

“Sometimes one of the parents may get a job they couldn’t have got without the training. The programme is a lot of fun and builds confidence; it’s so much more than just getting the hardware out there.”

And it’s not the big companies supporting the scheme.

Das says that although the scheme is dependent on the relationship Microsoft has with schools, the most support comes from small, community-minded businesses.

She points to Wellington courier company 2Unow which will deliver up to 20 computers free and a far-north CIH project that has teamed with Kaitaia College to receive technical support from its senior Cisco students.

Computers for the scheme are supplied by two government-accredited recycling companies: The Ark in Auckland and Remarkit Solutions in Wellington.

Tim Findlay, Remarkit director, says he became involved when he realised a lot of people were being sold machines they didn’t need.

“I was sitting in a retail shop one day listening to the sales rep sell a middle-aged woman — who only wanted to be able to email — a space rocket,” he says.

“The same thing is happening in schools. Our local school is spending $80,000 a year on leasing computer equipment that I could sell to them for $35,000 — what a waste of resources.”

Findlay points out that he is trying to run a profitable business and isn’t involved in the CIH project for charity, yet says the feedback from people is highly rewarding.

“Let’s face it, we work with inanimate objects all day. So to see people have a whole new world opened up to them is amazingly positive. It’s about resourcing people.”

Barbara Craig, researcher and lecturer at Victoria University’s School of Education, has been studying the impact the scheme has on participants.

Craig found that one of the major hurdles facing low-income families has been finding the money to pay for an internet connection.

“Finding ways to increase the home access of low-income families to the internet should remain a priority for all sectors — government, private and nonprofit — aiming to bridge the digital divide.”

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