TV channels, free computers for schoolkids in lockdown

More than 17,000 free computers are being given out to low-income families and two educational television channels are being launched in an all-out drive to help children learn at home while schools are closed.

The Government is also providing 2000 modems this week, ramping up to thousands more over the next few weeks, for families with school-aged children who don't have home internet access.

A further 20,000 families this week and 40,000 next week will get packs of hard-copy learning materials, targeted initially to children who are too young for online learning.

The initiatives have been given emergency funding of $87.7 million and Education Minister Chris Hipkins says "further additional funding might be required".

All schools are providing the names and addresses of the estimated 80,000 families with school-aged children who do not have home internet and/or suitable devices for their children to learn on at home.

Hipkins said all families would have "at least one educational delivery option" available when the new school term starts on Wednesday, April 15 after the Easter school holidays were brought forward two weeks due to the lockdown.

""The Ministry [of Education] has surveyed schools and about half say they are well set up currently for distance learning using the internet. But we are taking action to support new connections and resources for students at all schools," he said.

"Starting this week, the ministry will be rolling out, in waves, an extensive, four-channel package."

The four channels are:

• Increasing the number of students who have internet access and devices.

• Delivering hard copy packs of learning materials for different year levels.

• Funding two television channels to broadcast education-related content – one for English medium and one for Māori medium, including content that is targeted to Pacific and other communities

• More online resources for parents, available through the Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites, and fast-tracking ways to connect Learning Support Co-ordinators with families remotely.

"In addition, more support is being provided to assist schools to set up and make the best use of distance learning, and teachers and leaders will get access to more professional learning and development (PLD) to support them to work remotely with their students," Hipkins said.

Computers and internet access will be prioritised for Years 11 to 13 high-school students working towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and for "those with the greatest need due to disadvantage".

"We will then move down the year levels from years 10 to 1," Hipkins said.

"About 17,000 devices have been ordered and are confirmed to be shipped to students and ākonga in April. Not all will arrive before April 15, and it may take up to a month for all of them to be sent to households. Many schools already have their own stocks.

"We are working to secure thousands more devices from offshore.

"We are working on the commercial arrangements with Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As supplies become available, we expect to ramp up to sending out thousands of modems each week. Around 2000 this week.

"We believe there are about 350 students where there is currently no internet potential of any kind. We are exploring the possibility of satellite coverage for these households."

Devices will be owned by schools, which will have a choice of laptops or Chromebooks. Each school will decide whether to give the devices to families permanently or take them back for school use after the lockdown ends. The ministry will pay for insuring them.

"The devices we supply are pre-loaded with a content filter to block inappropriate content," Hipkins said.

The two Freeview TV channels launching on April 15 will broadcast for six and a-half hours a day and include specialised content for:

• Early learners,

• Parents, to help them support their children's education,

• A broad curriculum that includes movement, music, physical education, wellbeing, numeracy, literacy and science through an integrated approach to curriculum,

• An hour of Te Reo Māori, and

• Pacific and other communities.

"There's already a lot of good education video content available, and the ministry is working with experts and educators to refine and further develop it," Hipkins said.

• More details: learningfromhome.govt.nz

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