Evaluation of Provision of Connectivity and Devices - A Covid-19 Response Publications
In response to Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, the Ministry of Education supported digital access for learners in schools including kura. The Ministry’s Learning From a Pandemic Board commissioned an evaluation to assess the impact of digital access on learners and their whānau – that is, the provision of connectivity and devices provided from March 15, 2020 to September 30, 2020.
Author(s): Anne Dowden
Date Published: May 2022
The rollout reached many, but not all, learners in need of digital access. In the 2020 emergency response the Ministry attempted to provide 80,000 learners in 45,000 households with internet connectivity. In addition, 36,000 learners received devices (laptops, Chromebooks, iPads). Devices reached high-priority learners with 9,000 devices being provided to Year 11 to 13 learners in decile 1 to 3 schools, and 6,000 devices for Year 11 to 13 learners, in decile 4+ schools. Some learners in Years 9 to 13, and many in Year 1 to 8, still do not have digital access. The full extent of this unmet need is not known, as it was found that the previous estimates on gaps in provisioning were broader than first thought.
Digital access has supported learner engagement, achievement, and progress. The extent of the impact on learning could not be determined by this evaluation. Digital access was supportive of recipients’ ongoing engagement with their learning. Recipients’ attendance, retention in school, achievement or progress did not drop markedly during 2020. Data analysis found similar patterns for recipients and a demographically matched comparison group that had not been identified as needing the provision of digital access. Whānau and learner comments show that digital access helped learners to get NCEA and helped younger learners to make progress with maths and reading.
I could learn at my own pace. I completed a lot of school and MIT [tertiary study] classwork early. Also achieved the [prestigious award] in 2020 based on my online learning achievements over the Covid period. This was due to having my own laptop. In a family of 4 children only I got a device, so they all struggled. – Year 13 Māori Learner
Digital access had a supportive impact on recipient learner wellbeing and had social, cultural, and economic benefits for recipient learners and their whānau. Digital access relieved stress about achieving for Year 11 to 13 learners. Learners felt supported and that continuing their education was valued. They could access school support networks if they needed them. Benefits for whānau were broad; from keeping their social connections and providing others with community support, to continuing cultural and religious activities, and accessing new sources of income. Very few minor negative impacts were reported, and these were well managed (e.g., parents concerned about cyber-safety supervised their learners’ access to content).
The Covid-19 lockdowns together with digital access, led to changes in teaching practice in some schools. Teaching practice changes usually continued when learners returned to school, in 2020 and into 2021. Whether more formalised schoolwide pedagogical changes followed the enhancement of digital access is unclear because it was not reported in the small number of schools included in the evaluation.
Universal, educationally functional, digital access has not been sustained over the year. Connectivity was reasonably well sustained, although it was not always at an educationally functional level. A significant proportion of 2020 device-recipients (over half) had to return their device to school after the initial 2020 lockdown. A year later, many of these recipients - in Years 11 to 13 - didn’t have digital access during the Covid-19 lockdown that started in August 2021: just 43 percent of 2020 device-recipients surveyed, that did not have their own device in 2021, had a school device at home to use during the lockdown in 2021.
Lessons learned: the barriers and challenges to achieving greater digital access are many and varied, they include financial barriers for whānau, the technical challenge of recording addresses, limitations of funding, sector coordination challenges, as well as social and cultural challenges.
- Whānau refers to parents, siblings, and wider family, for any ethnicity. If commentary is specific to an ethnic group, this is noted. See Glossary for further definitions used in this document.
- Connectivity that is at a ‘educationally functional level’ is a nontechnical term. It is adequate for all the learners in a household to use for accessing educational content, such as downloading images, streaming YouTube tutorials, or participating in live Video calls without crashing or freezing.
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