Rural students learning better with internet connections 

Issue: Volume 100, Number 10

Posted: 7 July 2021
Reference #: 1HAMz6

Internet connections provided to rural households during and after the Covid-19 lockdowns are making it easier for children to learn away from the classroom. 

Learning on their boat near Great Barrier Island - Xyra (11), left, and Soren (8) Stannard

Learning on their boat near Great Barrier Island - Xyra (11), left, and Soren (8) Stannard

The Ministry of Education has provided more than 500 connections across New Zealand to rural/remote households that have students at home. 

Due to the remoteness or challenging location of some houses, the companies installing the connections had to come up with some creative solutions. 

“There was a student living in a very remote place without any electricity, so we had to put in solar power to get the connection up and running,” says Tom Linn, Executive Director Wireless Nations. 

“We also installed wireless broadband using antenna systems for students living with their families on a boat and others in a van. Additionally, there were cases where there was no mobile phone coverage or landline, so there was no way for our technicians to contact the office if there was an issue during installation.  

“At times like this, the technicians had to drive around to find a cell phone signal to call us, then go back to the house to complete the install and ensure the connection was up and running perfectly before leaving.” 

Hira Gage, Director of Education for Tai Tokerau, says many students in her region – more than 50 per cent of whom are Māori – live in isolated rural settings, distanced from supports that those in urban settings have easier access to. 

“More reliable and readily available internet access for students located in remote areas has been vital in maintaining connections to education and ensuring the wellbeing of students,” she says. 

Coralanne Child, Director of Education for Canterbury and Chatham Islands, agrees.  

“Connecting students living in rural/remote areas to the internet means they have greater accessibility to the Digital Technologies curriculum and facilitates the development of digital technology skills that can be used outside of school,” she says. 

Ensuring these students are connected “significantly furthers work in bridging the digital divide by directly addressing present inequities of access”. 

While the focus of the Ministry’s Covid response was distance learning, the benefits to the wider household will also help inform any future wider government response to the issue of digital exclusion. 

Getting students connected 

The Caldwells, Pelorus Sound, Marlborough  

Sue Caldwell lives off the grid with partner Frank Higgott and their two children – Heeni (12) and Piripi (14) – on a lifestyle block in Pelorus Sound, Marlborough. They were connected to broadband in November last year, which has “made life so much easier, especially for the children, who do all their learning remotely”, says Sue.  

“They’ve gone from paper-based to online learning using Google Classroom and they can chat to their teachers on Google Meet if they need help. It’s made a big difference to them and it’s been fantastic to have had this support from the Ministry and the guys who connected us.” 

 

Heeni (12), right, and Piripi (14) Higgott working hard from home in the Marlborough Sounds

Heeni (12), right, and Piripi (14) Higgott working hard from home in the Marlborough Sounds

The Stannards, Great Barrier Island  

The Stannards – Jacinda, Clint and daughters Xyra (11), Soren (8) and Tazmyn (4) – live on a boat near Great Barrier Island, where the couple work on pest control. Six months ago, they were provided with an internet connection, which has had some great benefits – especially for the girls, who have been learning by correspondence for the last six years. 

“It’s opened up a lot of options for them,” says Jacinda.  

“They can now talk to teachers online if they need to discuss schoolwork and they can also get involved in class activities, which gives them a sense of friendship, something they don’t have much of out here as we’re so remote. It’s helpful for all of us to be able to access information via the web.” 

The Lemms, Taranaki  

Sheep and beef farmers Paula and Billy Lemm, who live in rural Taranaki, were connected to the internet in early May.  

“It’s been great to get connected,” Billy says. “We’ve noticed our daughter Taylah [15] has been doing more schoolwork because she can work on her device, which she prefers to paper – there’s definitely greater interest there now.  

“The Ministry has really stepped up to the plate and 10 out of 10 to the guys who did the installation – we’re very remote and they had to come out here five times.” 

Taylah Lemm (15) set up to work at the kitchen table

Taylah Lemm (15) set up to work at the kitchen table

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 10:03 AM, 7 July 2021

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