8 Improving device access
Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy
This is the text of the report presented to the New Zealand Parliament in December 2012
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We heard that tools that allow students to improve their digital literacy form an important component of a 21st century learning environment. We heard from a number of submitters that different schools have various device policies, including funding of devices by parents, school funding, and allowing students to bring their own devices. A consistent theme in submissions was the need to focus less on choosing a specific type of device, and more on ensuring that all students have the opportunity of access to both a device and learning content and services. We heard that it is important to establish device policies addressing issues such as equity, funding options, conditions of use, and ease of use, which also recognise the pace of change in technology.
We heard that one of the benefits of using digital devices in schools is that it helps improve the engagement of students in their learning. We also heard from one submitter that this engagement can reduce truancy. One of the issues raised was that some students cannot access, or have difficulty accessing, digital devices in both the home and the school environment. We also heard that some schools have banned devices. We understand that there may be times when it is inappropriate to use a device in the school environment. In chapter 5, we have outlined some of the issues that have been raised regarding safe online environments in our schools. However, we think it is important for schools to ensure that all students have some access to a device for online learning.
Schools are using various funding schemes to enable greater access to devices for students. For example, the Manaiakalani cluster of schools in south Auckland has facilitated a leaseto-own scheme, where families pay an initial deposit of $40 and then $2.50 per week over four years. Another school has established a lease-to-own partnership with a local provider, under which 100 devices were made available for families to purchase. One school noted that their need for leasing-to-own arrangements was substantially reduced when students were allowed to bring their existing devices. In this school only six students, out of an intake of 300, needed to borrow devices from the school, with the rest able to provide their own devices from home. We are pleased to hear that the schools that were early adopters of devices have been used as case studies by other schools. Over 1,000 teachers have visited one school to observe the teaching environment, and see how it could be adapted for their schools. We understand that, given the variation in different communities’ access to resources, similar arrangements would not be possible in every school.
We heard suggestions that the Ministry of Education be encouraged to develop procurement policies for devices. This could cover device purchases in bulk, or bulk leasing arrangements, to reduce the cost to parents or schools. We heard from some submitters that it would be unfair to pass on the cost of devices to students and their families, as some might not be able to afford them. Some submitters argued that there should be more government funding of devices.
We heard that there are also issues regarding the security of digital devices. We heard that some students are not taking their devices home, because of security fears; and that students feel more confident to use devices at home if the family feels engaged with the device and the student’s learning.
We heard a number of submitters argue that student ownership of devices was more beneficial and delivered better learning outcomes than other arrangements, such as leasing by the school. We also heard that student ownership of devices is correlated with better care of them, and more engagement by families with students’ learning. Most of the evidence is anecdotal, however, as these policies are still new, so there has been little time for research. In considering device policy, we believe that the Government needs to consider adequate research into the potential benefits and drawbacks of ownership of devices.
With the predicted increase in the number of devices on a school site, it will become more and more important that schools have good, responsive technical support. As ICT services become more networked, a lot of technical support can be provided remotely using helpdesk services. We had advice that the ICT support role will need to shift to providing more help for students with device issues. We had advice that given the number of devices that may need support in the future, consideration should be given to consolidated helpdesk arrangements. Recommendations
28. We recommend that the Government consider introducing a policy that every student have access to a digital device for learning, including the appropriate age for such a policy to apply.
29. We recommend that the Government consider research and best practice to develop policies on device ownership and other arrangements to ensure students have access to a device.
30. We recommend that the Government investigate the best bulk supply arrangements to enable possible purchase by families or schools of devices suitable for use by students at school.
31. We recommend that the Government require schools to establish guidelines on the use of devices at school, based on Ministry of Education guidance, which recognises the value of digital devices for learning.
32. We recommend that the Government consider how to ensure access to necessary technical support, to ensure the use of ICT in schools is effective.