GETTING CONNECTED: Whakatane High School worked with students ahead of the lockdown to identify those without devices and the internet. File photo

Eastern Bay schools are checking whether families have Wi-Fi access and if their children have access to the Internet – ahead of the start of term two next week.

Schools will re-open on Wednesday when they will resume distance learning with students – but there is a rush to ensure all students have access to online study or hard copies of the work they need to do.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday dedicated TV channels would be among the package to provide lessons for schoolchildren.

Tens of thousands of school students had issues with connectivity and distance learning, she said, and she asked parents not to put too much pressure on themselves.

Schools are this week sending out surveys to families to find out whether students have online access to their learning, in response to a request from the Ministry of Education, which has said it would support students who didn’t.

Ezra Schuster, director of education for the Bay of Plenty-Waiariki for the Ministry of Education, told principals the survey was needed to identify the most vulnerable students, especially those in secondary school doing NCEA, who might need additional help and support from the ministry.

She said the ministry was working with the telco industry to extend household connectivity. “We will work directly with them to extend connectivity to households.

“The second is to provide devices to those students who need them so they can engage in your learning programmes.  Identifying these students will help us start the delivery as soon as possible.

“We are also providing hard packs so that students that can’t get online and/or where a school or kura has been unable to do this, don’t miss out.”

Trident High School acting principal Adrienne Scott-Jones said the school had a limited time to organise devices for students before it closed early for the holidays.

“But [we] managed to ensure that all our student from year 13 down to year 11 who needed a device were able to borrow one from school. The day after school closed, we managed to get more devices out to junior students whose whanau came to the school and collected Chrome Books,” she said.

“The ministry recognises that some homes will not have adequate access to the internet and some homes will better be served with hard copy paper resources. Through gathering data from Trident they hope to get these packs to the students who need them.”

Ms Scott-Jones said Trident had already been fielding calls and emails from whanau who were struggling to access Google classrooms because although they had a device their internet access was inadequate.

“We are also aware that for some parents it is an entirely new experience and they are struggling to oversee and support distance learning.”

The school’s management team was meeting yesterday to finalise a strategic pastoral plan to assist parents during this complex time.

Whakatane High School principal Martyn Knapton said his school had also done a lot of work around planning before the shutdown and this included identifying students without devices and the internet.

“But we were really hamstrung about what we could do about students without the internet ; we supported parents by giving them devices to use over the course of the Covid-19 lockdown and that meant we gave over a hundred devices to students and that has been really good because it has made sure those students can access the learning.

“But one of the issues for us is an inequity issue … there are members of our community who haven’t got devices and haven’t got Wi-fi and if we do distance learning that is not fair.”

Mr Knapton said the school was working with the ministry to address this.

“We know who the students are, and we have given them the details of those students and the ministry, in my understanding, is looking at providing them with a device and providing them with Wi-fi.”

In Kawerau, an estimated 40 percent of families were either without an internet connection or a device.

“It is definitely the case at my school, but it is also probably Kawerau wide,” said Kawerau Putauaki School Rachel Chater.

She said Murupara and Kawerau had the capacity to access Wi-Fi via the Te Aka Toitu Trust, which had previously been set up to connect households to the Internet.

The challenge now was getting students connected during the lockdown.

Ms Chater said fortunately, her school had already put together hard copy packs for students with about four weeks work prior to the country going to alert level 4.

“Most schools have done that as well.”

She said the local Ministry of Education office had been excellent in their communication and effort to address the internet/device issue.

“They are also aware that our region, the Eastern Bay, has got the least connectivity and so looking at how we can support families and learners.”