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Voices from the frontline: BYOD widening the digital divide


Recently we have received an email from Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule, Founder / Ecosystem Builder at the incredible Digital Natives Academy (DNA). Lasa outlined issues, both technological and social, rangatahi in the Bay of Plenty are facing caused by the nationwide push for BYOD in schools. These complexities are echoed across the motu, creating the need for conversation and action to support equitable outcomes for our most marginalised rangatahi. 

As DECA is a conduit for community voice, we felt it best to share Nikolasa’s words in full. 

Tēnā koutou katoa,


I just wanted to share some insights we have after working in the digital equity space since 2014 via our non profit Digital Natives Academy. We also have set up Te Papatipu Matihiko Charitable Trust (which is a collaboration between DNA and 2 leading organisations in this space who we work closely with, Victory-Up and Ngāti Gaming) to support young people and schools around the country.


We work with young Māori in the Bay of Plenty and across Aotearoa, who don’t have access to technology and provide high spec gear with related free programmes in game dev, 3D design, livestreaming, digital wellbeing and esports to schools, alternative education providers and the community.  We also run a level 4 digital creativity foundation course in partnership with Media Design School (120 credits over 40 weeks)


However, a number of unintended consequences have emerged over the years as a direct result of devices being distributed to students across the country, which I’m not sure you are aware of. 


Increased lack of access to high spec computers

 Locally we had a big push 4-5 years ago to provide devices to students - as a rule these were low budget Chromebooks and other similar devices.  While this meant students could get online, access classroom work and source info, it also meant that schools saw less need to keep their computer labs (generally which housed multiple high spec computers) and began to slowly dismantle this core infrastructure, to the point where most schools no longer have any of the tech needed to support students meaningfully onsite. 


High spec computers are necessary not just for esports, but for game development (Unreal/Unity), graphic design, animation, motion graphics, 3D asset development, video/photo editing and livestreaming.


This has impacted our Māori and PI students more than before BYOD became a thing and only has gotten worse post pandemic after the 2nd big push.


Before, students at least had access to high spec computers in schools, now the majority no longer do pushing equity even further out of reach of those students who need access the most. 


Schools redirected their computer lab budgets to other areas further undermining access to a critical component needed to pathway our rangatahi into digital and creative tech. Once those budgets are gone, it's almost impossible to redirect them back.


It takes years to build up the level of skill levels needed to get into graphic design, animation, game dev, 3D design and esports - which means middle class kids whose parents can afford the tech (generally around $1.5-$2k per computer) can start their children early and give them the tech they need to excel.


Whereas for our Māori and PI rangatahi it's an almost impossible task (at least for the thousands of kids we connect with each year) - giving devices to every student has in fact completely undermined equity of access, in particular those pathways into digital and creative tech. While we understand the need, especially in light of the lockdowns over the past 2.5 years, we have seen significant negative consequences too, which can't be understated.


Schools are constantly contacting us to find out how to source funding for high spec tech and we have helped many over the years access external funding to begin rebuilding but DNA is a small non-profit and really we are not in a position to support this effort in earnest (we simply lack the resources needed to dedicate the amount of staff time required to help). But we try where we can.


Most recently Te Papatipu Matihiko has developed a strong working relationship with Spotswood College (via an MOU) to source funding and helped them successfully access that funding allowing the school to purchase 11 high spec computers and are working with an amazing teacher and HOD Māori, Morehu Rainsfield to develop Oranga Matihiko, an innovative programme providing NCEA levels 1-3.  This has meant that their students and those in the surrounding community now have access to the level of tech they need to meaningfully pathway into digital and creative tech ecosystems.

Increase in digital harm 

 Alongside the dismantling of our core infrastructure we have seen an increase in digital harm, over the last 3 years we have developed Te Iwi Matihiko ( to help students, parents and teachers better understand how to navigate online spaces safely. 


So while NZ schools, and orgs handed out digital devices to as many students as possible, we didn't provide anyone with support or guidance on how to be safe across these platforms. Each year we work with over 1800 students to deliver this programme in schools (North & South Island) and at DNA.


What we have found is that cyberbullying has increased, thoughts of self-harm amongst those we work with is estimated to be close to 8% (among 9-12 year olds) and young people are crying out for more help. 97% of the students we work with want this taught in their school.  We are currently aiming to pull together a number of groups in this space (Sticks and Stones, Digital Disciple and the Light Project) and hope that our collective efforts will have greater impact going forward.


So while the idea of a device for every student is well-intended our experience hopefully will provide better insight into how you support digital equity efforts going forward. We just want better equity in particular for those who need it most. 


We do appreciate your kaupapa but hope that this email will help illuminate some of the complexities that have emerged from these wholesale device rollouts.


Ngā mihi nui,


We welcome further kōrero on the experiences highlighted by Nikolasa and the Digital Natives Academy. Please contact us on