What can be done to address device equity in the face of COVID-19?

Across New Zealand, schools are seeing a drastic surge in the need to provide digital, at-home learning as the COVID-19 pandemic grows. As schools review their capacity to provide learning resources to students and whanau, the longstanding issues of the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) model are suddenly brought to light. Students throughout Aotearoa are now leaving school facing four weeks of quarantine — without the tools to communicate and continue to pursue their learning. It’s now apparent that ICT equability should no longer be ignored.

“Access to internet-enabled equipment at homes and internet connections.”

In one sentence, it is made to sound simple, but for some households, this is no easy feat. Despite large scale investment in the promotion of digital learning; governing bodies and schools have so far provided no solutions for families who lack the devices to access this content in the first place.

Part of the issue is the inflated cost associated with digital devices — Chromebooks and PC’s contracted to schools are often marketed as costly proprietary systems. Consequently, they pose a significant financial burden to our education system. To schools, the idea of giving students these devices to use at-home sounds almost unfathomable. Given this, the government may have already quietly concluded that it is not within the scope or ability of the private sector to provide these goods and services; however, we at Remojo Tech think differently and believe that we might have the answer.

Our model is to find otherwise functional, cosmetically worn devices and give them a new lease of life. We take in old devices and repair, then redistribute them, creating a buffer such that in the event a school closes, these devices can be donated to students in need. This is more than just theory too, as hours after Prime Minister Arderns announcement of school closure, we worked with the AC BYOD team at Aotea College to distribute over thirty devices to students in need.

“COVID-19 has presented a unique opportunity for us to implement our model and gain feedback from the students we hope to aid.” — Managing Director, Owyn Aitken

Image for post
Image for post
The AC BYOD team working hard to repair devices to be ready for redistribution — Credit: Erik Dekker

When looking at the market for refurbished devices in the face of COVID-19, we often find our ‘sustainable’ competitors focus exclusively on generating revenue — with intensified marketing and price-hikes to capitalise on the increased demand. This is a mindset we want to change, as refurbished devices provide the perfect opportunity to address issues of equity and accessibility given their low associated costs. We need to undercut the market and re-frame what’s possible with these old devices.

Going back to the government’s initial response, when asked about whether devices and internet connections would be provided to students in lock-down that don’t have access to them, Hon. Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said;

“We are still trying to work through the equity issues in regards to digital learning.”

We applaud the governments’ acknowledgement of this long-standing issue, and hope to share that the solution may be a lot simpler than envisaged!

Want to contribute to this cause? Contact us at https://www.remojo.tech/contact!

Written by

Co-founder and managing director at Remojo Tech — a social enterprise that focuses on sustainability and equability. Find us at www.remojo.tech

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store