Daryl Evans works with families in South Auckland and says vulnerable families are being driven into the clutches of mobile shops, which charge exorbitant prices.

“I did a price comparison and one device that was $198 at Noel Leeming was being sold for $413 plus interest on the truck,” says Evans who is chief executive of Mangere Budgeting.

Bring your own device (BYOD) eases the IT budget for many schools, which would otherwise have to buy or lease school computers.

But it often brings financial pain to low income parents. Some schools do find ways to fund devices directly. Although a “nightmare”, as one decile 10 principal described it to EA, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. But the other model starting to find favour, especially in lower deciles schools, is devices provided upfront to whānau through a community partnership and paid back using microfinancing.

Maximise access

The poster child for this model is Auckland’s Manaiakalani Education Trust cluster. With the help of corporate funding, Chromebooks and related devices were bought for every child in 12 schools. Families make weekly $3.65 repayments over three years. The cost covers the device, licences, a robust case, insurance and extended warranty. Every child has the same device. “We reduce choice to maximise access,” says Manaiakalani executive officer Jenny Oxley.

Other schools are offering discounted devices, using bulk-buying deals through local retailers or leasing schemes. The key to keeping the costs down for whānau is a) avoiding specifying high end devices such as iPads and b) directing parents to cheaper devices that can be just as effective in the classroom. In South Auckland, Evans says too many schools ask students to buy iPads, when cheaper, perfectly good devices are available. “The parents are poor but they perceive it is shameful for their children to be different to the other children.”

Sources of microfinance include the Taitokerau Education Trust, Salvation Army and credit unions. Another option is Work & Income recoverable assistance loans. Schools can also seek help through organisations such as the 2020 Trust and its Computers in Homes programme.

The microfinance approach can be a learning experience. One trust that loaned money found that low-income whānau were using the money to buy top-of-range-devices, whereas they could have spent several hundred dollars less.

Di Daniels of Computers in Homes, which is funded by the 2020 Trust, says some local education trusts now offer microfinance loans on specified devices rather than leaving it up to the whānau who might choose to spend too much.

Sponsorship

But it can be difficult for schools that don’t have access to corporate funding. As the deputy principal at one out-oftown school said, “We investigated deals with local or national companies but in the end we found we were too small to really make it worthwhile for the companies concerned.”

But on the back of the Manaiakalani template and its Outreach Programme, more clusters are emerging and using their combined size to provide equitable learning opportunities for students.

The model often involves initial capital investment/corporate sponsorship leading to partially selfsustaining programmes to supply specified devices to families. The devices are paid off over two to three years. Weekly repayments can be pooled by the trust towards buying the next round of new devices.

Both Te Reanga Ipurangi Ōtaki Education Trust and Te Mana o Kupe Trust in Porirua East, which support clusters in their areas, received some initial funding from the Todd Foundation and the McKenzie Trust. They used it to help set up office administration and a whānau coordinator, says Michele Whiting, principal at Corinna School in Porirua. Even so, the trusts are very dependent on donations. Te Mana o Kupe also received a one-off payment from Manaiakalani to help set up, but isn’t part of their outreach programme.

“The Chromebooks are purchased through a three-year lease arrangement with Spark,” Whiting says. The trusts carry the financial liability if families default on their payments.

At the same time, a piecemeal approach inevitably means some children and schools will miss out. A national policy is required to ensure the equity of every child having a laptop.