The COVID-19 pandemic and school closures highlighted a number of areas where New Zealand's schools required more tech support.
Responding to a survey by network services provider N4L, schools said they wanted to boost their internet capacity, manage the lifecycle of their devices, customise filtering, report on internet use and provide professional development.
Most schools (88 per cent) felt confident in their ability to protect students online. They ask students to sign internet use agreements (86 per cent), use web filtering (84 per cent), bring in guest speakers, host training workshops and provide other professional development opportunities for teachers to boost their school’s online safety efforts.
Despite this, schools cited many challenges to keeping their students safe online. They know students can find ways around filtering technology and that popular websites such as YouTube can display age-inappropriate images and videos.
They also mentioned cyber bullying issues that take place outside the school gates and can lead to issues at school. Overseeing classroom device use is also time-consuming, with students able to skillfully flick between open tabs as the teacher approaches.
School closures during Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns highlighted the importance of the internet for learning beyond the school gate, with the percentage of schools saying the absence of home internet impacted learning more than doubling from 25 per cent in 2018 to 59 per cent this year.
The biggest technology obstacles faced by schools during the COVID-19 lockdowns were the ability to access devices (77 per cent) and the internet (73 per cent) from home, with 69 per cent saying their home internet connection was unreliable.
While only 10 per cent said at least half of their students couldn't access the internet from home, 24 per cent of schools indicated that at least half of their students couldn't access devices from home, with smaller and lower decile schools being the most disadvantaged.
Schools based in Tai Tokerau, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, and the Waikato regions are less likely to have home access to internet and devices, accordinging to the survey, called Touchpoint.
While most schools provided either some or all of their students with devices for use at school (96 per cent), only 15 per cent allowed them to go regularly home with students. During lockdown, an additional 44 per cent of schools allowed students to take them home.
“This survey gives us helpful insights into the schools and kura we serve," said CEO Larrie Moore. "Touchpoint shows that schools and kura need, more than ever, to be supported around online safety, remote learning and managing their technology so they are free to teach and ākonga are free to learn.”
With much education content now delivered online, the few students who didn't have quality devices and suitable internet were at a disadvantage, putting pressure on schools to help find solutions for them and their families, said David Beaumont the ICT Director at Green Bay High School in West Auckland.
Students also felt left out and cannot engage in learning, especially at the senior levels with NCEA, said Rajal Singh, a science teacher at Te Kauwhata College in North Waikato.
N4L, which outsources many of the services it delivers across regional New Zealand, was helping address some of these demands by upgrading the wireless networks inside schools through the Ministry of Education’s Te Mana Tūhono programme. This will boost the internet capacity, reliability and resilience within schools, as well as provide additional cybersecurity support, with all participating schools scheduled to have gone through the upgrade programme by 2024.
More than 550 from over 2450 schools in Aotearoa New Zealand participated in the Crown company’s Touchpoint survey, which was in the field in June 2021.