Closing digital divide critical for school success

David McLean, Westpac NZ CEO
Closing digital divide critical for school success

As Kiwis we pride ourselves on the notion of a free education.

But in reality it isn’t completely free and the bad news is it's likely to get worse before it gets better. That’s something we should all care about. Education is one of the greatest enablers of social mobility and one of the biggest levers for addressing long-term inequality.

It's equally vital to our country’s economic success - we need skilled workers who will invent and innovate to earn our income from the rest of the world.

If we don’t get education right the impact falls disproportionately on the communities which face the biggest barriers - low income, predominantly Māori and Pasifika families. 

Any parent with a child at school will tell you we are on the cusp of a huge shift.

Digital devices in schools are revolutionising learning. This offers the biggest opportunity in decades to close the performance gap - but they come at a high cost that is a huge barrier for our poorest students and schools.

At the same time many of these students face extra challenges – they are more likely to be absent with avoidable illness like respiratory or skin infections, or transient, due to housing issues.

I visited Papakura High School in South Auckland earlier this year. There I witnessed first-hand the positive impact that individualised learning from devices in classrooms can bring.

Papakura High is one of six low-decile schools that are taking part in an innovative new community-led programme – Mana-ā-Riki, which Westpac is proud to support. It takes an integrated approach to education, assisting with digital learning, nursing clinics in schools and support to ensure students’ homes are warm and safe.

So far, it has delivered more than 1,000 Chromebooks into classrooms, provided health services to 1090 children and treated around 900 cases of preventable illness.

The early results are promising and is the sort of innovation that could help lift results and opportunity at other schools around New Zealand.

However, without partners, including the Middlemore Foundation, the Manaiakalani Trust and Westpac, most of these students would not be able to purchase the Chromebooks they now use, or receive the healthcare that helps keep them learning.

We need to face the reality that for many communities there are currently no partners.

As New Zealanders we need a far louder debate on how government, communities and business can help solve these problems or we risk blowing a once in a generation opportunity to improve the outcomes for generations to come.

Learn more about the Mana-ā-Riki programme

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