Bridging the digital gap for families

April 2024

Brett Bailey 265x300 - Bridging the digital gap for familiesFamilies struggling to connect with the internet are being helped by a group of agencies keen to bridge the gap.

Tu Mai Digital was set up after Covid lockdowns when it was realised that families with no internet access were falling behind in being able to participate in schoolwork and community activities.

SociaLink, which supports the Western Bay of Plenty social and community sector, launched a pilot Digital Divide programme in 2022 to put 50 laptops into homes, with the help of Western Bay of Plenty’s Covid-19 Recovery Fund, established by local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council.

Tu Mai Digital evolved from there, operating under the Poutiri Trust with funders including charities, government and councils, and industry participants such as telcos, fibre companies, trainers and device suppliers.

Manager Brett Bailey said the group realised the massive gap between those on the “digital journey” and those left behind was widening.

“We ran a trial connecting families to the internet, going into areas where it was needed the most, connecting families at no cost, providing laptops and training where they had no connectivity at all.”

The aim was to provide equitable access to digital inclusion and reduce disadvantage in the area by providing a hand up so participants eventually achieved self-sufficient digital inclusion. The project helps participants for as long as they need, working with social agencies who are already working with disadvantaged families.

“For instance, we’re doing training at a marae for 25 people on digital safety and how to use smart devices for such things as internet banking.

“We’re also hoping that everyone will donate second hand devices as they replace them. Demand always exceeds our supply,” he said. The group is also keen to hear from corporate or commercial sponsors that could provide other goods and services.

The aim was to have 75 families connected by September but the group will easily exceed that.

“Some have connectivity such as mum or dad with a cellphone, but it might be the only device and not ideal for sharing. The goal is to get refurbished devices for the kids to do their homework. The Ministry of Education is connecting those who don’t have a connection but many don’t know about that so we can help them.”

He says the gap is still widening as the Government pushes more work online, and the use of AI will make it even faster.

“There is a big economic benefit to being able to connect. These days it’s essential and new options are developing. The internet is so creative and lends itself to kids, who are naturally tech savvy. There are no rules anymore.

“More people working from home means those without connectivity won’t have the same opportunities. We can link families with other not-for-profits which can do more training.

Anyone with devices to donate can contact Brett at 021 888 811, or bbailey@poutiri.org