A new survey released today by Network for Learning (N4L) reveals the challenges experienced by schools around online safety, remote learning, and identifies four areas where schools would like more technology support.
N4L connects schools and kura across Aotearoa New Zealand to safe and reliable internet services, and is upgrading schools’ wireless networks to boost their capacity and cybersecurity resilience.
More than 550 from over 2450 schools in Aotearoa New Zealand participated in the Crown company’s survey, called Touchpoint, which ran in June 2021 and is designed to assist N4L’s future planning by exploring how schools use the internet for learning. The responses stem from principals and school IT leaders and build on some insights gained from N4L’s previous school surveys.
CEO of N4L Larrie Moore says, “This survey gives us helpful insights into the schools and kura we serve. 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.”
According to the survey, most schools (88%) feel confident in their ability to protect students online. They ask students to sign internet use agreements (86%), use web filtering (84%), 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 confidence, schools cited many challenges to keeping their students safe online. They know students can find ways around filtering technology and popular websites can display age-inappropriate images and videos. They also mentioned cyberbullying issues that take place outside the school gates can lead to issues at school, and that overseeing classroom device use is time-consuming, with students able to skillfully flick between open tabs as the teacher approaches.
School closures during Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns in 2020-2021 have highlighted the importance of the internet for learning beyond the school gate, with the percentage of schools saying the absence of home internet impacts learning more than doubling from 25% in 2018 to 59% in 2021.
The biggest technology obstacles faced by schools during the COVID-19 lockdowns were the ability to access devices (77%) and the internet (73%) from home, with 69% saying their home internet connection was unreliable.
While only 10% say at least half of their students can’t access the internet from home, 24% of schools indicated that at least half of their students can’t access devices from home, with smaller and lower decile schools being the most disadvantaged across both areas. Schools based in Tai Tokerau, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, and the Waikato regions are less likely to have home access to internet and devices. While most schools provide either some or all of their students with devices for use at school (96%), only 15% allow them to go home with students on a regular basis. During those lockdown times, an additional 44% of schools allowed students to take them home.
“Much of our content is now delivered online - so the few students who don't have quality devices and suitable internet are at a disadvantage - putting pressure on the school to help find solutions for them and their families," says David Beaumont the ICT Director at Green Bay High School in West Auckland.
"These students feel left out and cannot engage in the learning, especially at the senior levels with NCEA," says Rajal Singh, a science teacher at Te Kauwhata College in North Waikato.
When asked what areas they’d like more tech support with, 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.
N4L is helping across some of these areas by upgrading the wireless networks inside schools through the Ministry of Education’s Te Mana Tūhono programme. This technology rollout 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.