Lockdown highlighted and exacerbated difficulties for young Māori students on the wrong side of the digital divide

A lack of access to suitable digital devices, internet connectivity and quality learning resources during the eight weeks of lockdown hindered the learning of rangatahi and tamariki and negatively impacted their mental health and resilience.

These issues have been exposed in a partnership report, Addressing rangatahi education – challenges after COVID-19, by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.

The report highlights the stresses and impact of an event, such as the Covid-19 lockdown, on wellbeing and the importance of understanding community, whānau and tamariki resilience and adaptability. It showcases how iwi drew upon their own resources and organisational skills to support their rangatahi in very positive ways in the face of unforeseen circumstances and systemic difficulties.

With the education system being variably prepared for such a swift change to online teaching and remote learning, a number of challenges and inequalities have come to the fore in recent months. These need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

It is critical that iwi, hapū and whānau are fundamentally involved in developing and driving the solutions needed to address disparities. It is imperative that there is equitable access and opportunities to enable educational success for Māori, and specifically to this report, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

The report originated from flaxroots research by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, which wanted to ascertain the wellbeing and needs of its iwi during the Covid-19 lockdown. The iwi surveyed whānau and was alarmed to discover a high number struggling with remote education challenges and required significant support.

Whānau reported being confronted with a number of challenges, including parents being thrust into the role of teachers while also adjusting to working remotely. In some households, several children in a family needed access to devices as well as internet connectivity to continue with their learning. Adding to these pressures, systemic issues around the distribution of resources meant some schools were not prepared for the swift transition to online learning.

Of the 668 rangatahi aged 12 to 17, including 217 senior students studying NCEA, more than 50 percent only had, at best, an internet-enabled phone in the household that was shared between parents and multiple tamariki to use for remote learning. Not surprisingly, several senior students reported feeling stressed and worried about their NCEA outcomes and future prospects beyond school.  

To address the issue, the iwi distributed more than 400 Chromebooks to whānau. This extensive effort to assist and support the learning of their tamariki and rangatahi clearly boosted the flagging wellbeing of these stressed whānau. It helped address the digital divide on the future outlook of both rangatahi and their parents.

The insights provided by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei point to how the education system can better partner with iwi to overcome the current digital divides and assist with building upon iwi and whānau strengths.

We believe lessons can be generalised and applied to other iwi and disadvantaged communities beyond Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

As digital inclusiveness is critical for the future of our rangatahi – for employment, financial independence and entrepreneurship, and sustainable wellbeing – we make the following recommendations:

– Identify strengths and build upon the capacity of iwi, like Ngāti Whātua Orākei, to promote and enhance digital inclusiveness;

– Ensure greater co-determination between the Ministry of Education and iwi organisations to create effective partnerships to ensure effective digital inclusion;

– Support more flaxroots research, partnering with iwi and Māori communities, to assess educational impacts and needs in the post-Covid-19 and recovery periods;

– Expedite universal provision of suitable devices to ensure each student has access to their own device to promote equitable learning opportunities and outcomes;

– Urgently address the connectivity barriers to ensure all students have appropriate and sufficient access to the internet for online learning and support;

– Provide accelerated learning and additional tutoring to help students recover from lockdown impacts on their learning so they can achieve equitable success in valued outcomes, including national qualifications;

– Provide one-to-one teaching support for teachers/kaiako and parents/whānau assisting students in remote learning;

– Provide free access to additional culturally responsive support for students, parents and teachers throughout the recovery period, especially during the next six months, and thereafter ensure adequate psychosocial support capability in all schools and kura kaupapa to meet ongoing needs;

– Address the ongoing structural drivers underpinning the digital divide and educational challenges for Māori, through an inter-sectoral approach;

– Support equitable funding and resourcing of Māori-medium education in the preschool and compulsory sector based on need.

The findings emphasise the need, in the event of a national lockdown, for the Government to ensure every school student requiring digital access to online lessons, resources, or learning support is supplied sufficiently with a digital device and internet connectivity.

Rangimarie Hunia, Chief Executive of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Maia, and Professor Stuart McNaughton, Faculty of Education and Social Work, and Rochelle Menzies, Koi Tū: The Centre of Informed Futures, both at the University of Auckland.

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