Apr 13, 2021 Last Updated 11:41 PM, Apr 12, 2021

As the tertiary sector in New Zealand prepares to shift online in response to COVID-19 restrictions, digital equity among students has never been more critical – an issue that disproportionately impacts on Pacific and Māori communities.   

AUT Vice-Chancellor, Derek McCormack has announced that AUT is underlining its commitment to access by providing computer equipment and broadband to thousands of its students.   

During the four-week study break, the University canvassed students to establish their digital needs.

The survey indicated that six per cent of AUT students do not have a laptop, tablet or PC at home that they can use for study purposes. In addition, 17 per cent of students do not have broadband at home in order to connect to learning and support. According to Open Colleges, 81% of U.S teachers think tablets can enrich classroom learning, and 86% of students believe that their tablets can help them to study more efficiently.  

Assistant Vice-Chancellor Pacific Advancement and South Campus, Walter Fraser, led the digital equity and access initiative that has resulted in AUT securing up to 1,500 laptops and purchasing up to 4,000 connectivity packages, a move that that will enable AUT students with identified technological barriers to pursue online learning and continue their studies.  

“The impact of COVID-19 is being disproportionately born by our most vulnerable and, in New Zealand, many of these are our Pacific and Māori communities, and especially in South Auckland,” he says.  

“Over the past three years, I have been pulling together data that has brought into sharp focus the inequities that poverty and deprivation creates. About one in five of our students live in areas that score 9-10 on the New Zealand Deprivation Index. Initiatives to bridge the technology divide and ensure digital equity are an example of a paradigm shift in the way our university is addressing these issues.  

“AUT has endeavoured to ensure that all of our students, irrespective of socio-economic status or ethnicity have the best possible chance to be successful with their studies,” Mr Fraser says.   

“I can’t underscore enough the unequivocal and unanimous support that this initiative has received from every quarter of the University and in particular our senior management colleagues and AUT Council.” 

Fiji National University is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a national university, but 150th anniversary as an education provider. Talking to Islands Business just before his recent departure, FNU Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Healey said one of the things that has pleased him most during his tenure was the sense of unity and community the university now has, having historically formed from disparate colleges.

FNU has about 1000 regional students, many of them studying medicine or in TVET (vocational) engineering courses. The largest numbers come from Solomon Islands and Samoa, but other countries are represented as well.

Professor Healey says FNU is distinguished from other unis through its strong vocational focus, and strong provision of sub-degree or TVET level qualifications.

“We really educate  people for careers for jobs…all the programs are very closely integrated with the employment market. So we design the courses in collaboration with employer groups and professional bodies and all of our courses have what we call workplace attachments.”

Fiji has three universities and more than 50 colleges. Is the market large enough to support them all?

To read more, get our April edition.

Dodging the digital divide

  • Apr 13, 2021
  • Published in April

It will be two long months before Fijian children are back at school; classrooms are scheduled to reopen on June 15

Like them, children in many other Pacific nations and territories are learning at home, or taking extended holidays,  as a result of COVID-19 precautionary measures. Globally, the UN education and cultural agency, UNESCO says this is revealing a startling digital divide, as half of all students currently out of the classroom,or nearly 830 million learners globally, do not have access to a computer.

Writing from Queensland, academic  Carol Farbotko and community leader Taukiei Kitara have suggested this period will give Tuvaluan students more time to join in fishing, farming, and production of handicrafts, thereby “strengthening customary knowledge systems.” However two Tuvalu government employees,  Tala Simeti and Jess Marinaccio are concerned about the logistics of reopening schools, writing in DevPolicy: “if schools re-open too late and students are forced to repeat a year, this may have major ramifications for the entire education system.”

Alongside Kiribati and Vanuatu, Tuvalu offers its students the South Pacific Form Seven Certificate (SPFSC) course. How will they fare during the education lockdown?

To read more, subscribe to Islands Business

Teachers turned examiners



In a major shift from the norm, school teachers will be assigned to supervise external examinations this year.

In a circular sent to all schools on 28 August 2018, Permanent Secretary for Education Alison Burchell says these teachers will be given the title of Assistant Supervisor.

The external examinations for which teachers will be engaged in are the Year 6, Year 8, Year 10, Year 12 and Year 13 examinations.

The Ministry of Education has also outlined a set of rules to ensure “the integrity of examinations held in Fiji.”

“The nominated teachers need to maintain the confidentiality and impartiality of the supervision of the process and are mandated to sign the declaration form,” reads the circular.

The Ministry recommends that the nominated teachers should not be teaching at that level or subject that the students will be examined in.

“It would be appropriate for a Year 6 teacher to be supervising a Year 8 examination or a Year 10 English teacher to be supervising a Year 12 Mathematics paper (for example),” write the PS.

All teachers who will take up the responsibility are being asked to sign a declaration of impartiality and confidentiality form.

“I hereby declare that I shall remain impartial and maintain confidentiality on all related information about supervision of the examination,” reads the form.

Teachers will be required to adhere to the “strictest confidentiality.”

“I undertake neither to disclose such information to any person, nor to discuss it with any person in any public place or where others could overhear it at any time before, during or after my appointment.” states the form.

Principals and Head Teachers are now being asked to submit the names of the teachers, who will be involved in the examination supervision process to their District Education Office.

By Anish Chand

New permanent secretary for Education, Alison Burchell has implemented some new guidelines for teachers who wish to travel overseas.

This includes the mandatory approval of all overseas leave by her office.

In a circular to all heads of schools, Burchell says since taking office, she has noticed applications for overseas leave arrive at Marela House in the last minute.

“Officers depart for overseas before it is granted,” she writes.

Burchell says this is contrary to procedure and disciplinary action can be taken.

Under the new guidelines, Ministry staff who wish to travel overseas must submit their application for approval 21 days before departure.

“Teachers should get this leave approval before applying for a visa,” Burchell says.

Heads of schools have also been given powers to ascertain if they want a teacher to be released for overseas travel.

“When making a recommendation on whether a teacher should be allowed to go on leave overseas, please consider the impact on your school and on the students and if you do not support the leave application, please indicate with reasons,” says Burchell.

School heads are being told to only release teachers from school duties once leave approval has come from Suva.

Teachers are reminded that its compulsory to attend the student free days before the opening of a new term.

“Upon return of the staff from overseas leave, school heads need to notify the headquarters,” says Burchell.

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