Today’s youngsters are often called ‘digital natives’ – in other words, they’ve grown up with the internet and instinctively know how to use technology.

But that’s not the case in every community.

A ‘digital divide’ is another term frequently bandied around, and refers to the gap developing between rich and poor households over access to devices and the internet at home.

It’s that gap which Te Aka Toitū is seeking to overcome in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

This new community trust formed in July 2016 and aims to help low decile school students in Kawerau and Murupara obtain affordable devices and internet connectivity at home. Upskilling local teachers on how to make the most of digital learning opportunities is also a key priority.

Education Overhaul

Te Aka Toitū Project Manager Sam Gibson has been a teacher for 10 years and says education has changed drastically because of the internet.

“Teachers used to be the sole source of information but that’s no longer the case. Now teachers are facilitators so their students can focus on learning 21st Century skills like collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication.

“We’re essentially training these students for jobs that don’t yet exist. That’s why those skills are really important. Education is now about teaching students to question things and become good problem solvers. It’s very hard to promote those skills without access to technology at home.”

The last census showed Kawerau households have one of the lowest rates of internet access in New Zealand – around 50 per cent.

“If students don’t have the ability to learn outside the school gates they’re hugely disadvantaged. They should be able to learn any time, any place. We want to give these kids the same opportunities that others get by having a device and internet access at home.”

Digital Partnerships

Te Aka Toitū is now working with Noel Leeming and Acer computers to source touch-screen Chrome books for students from 2017 onwards. “They’ve given us a very good deal and a hugely reduced price which people wouldn’t otherwise be able to get in store,” Sam explains.

Families will be able to buy the Chrome book outright or pay it off over a three year period for as little as $5 per week. The trust is also looking to establish a Wi-Fi network in both Kawerau and Murupara using the ultra-fast broadband connection at local schools so students have affordable internet access at home.

About 900 students aged from Year 5 to Year 11 will initially be invited to take part from Tarawera High School; Kawerau South School; Kawerau Putauaki School; Te Whata Tau o Putauaki; Te Kura Toitu o Te Whaiti-nui-a-Toi; Te Kura Māori-ā-rohe o Waiohau; and Murupara Area School.

Financial Support

BayTrust has also given Te Aka Toitū a $20,000 grant for operational costs to help get their new initiatives off the ground.

“This is our very first grant and it’s so hard to get funding, especially when you’re new,” Sam says. “So this is a huge boost for us to get out heads above water and push on. It’s very exciting and we really appreciate BayTrust’s support.”

Te Aka Toitū is thrilled to have Sir Michael Cullen as its patron, and have established a strong group of trustees to turn these goals into reality.

As Project Manager, Sam is also looking forward to working alongside teaching staff from all seven participating schools to help promote digital learning in the classroom.

“It’s our duty as teachers to ensure there’s a return on investment for the families who are buying these devices. We want to ensure each student is fully engaged and getting the most out of their learning.

“We’ve got a long journey ahead of us but we’re really excited to get things off the ground.”