Freelance website designer Roland Riddell connects disadvantaged children with the technology they need to succeed in their education and life.
11 Sep 2022
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Digits volunteer helping reduce the digital divide
Roland started volunteering for the charitable trust in 2019 after seeing a callout for helpers in Volunteer Central’s newsletter.
“My motivation is that kids literally can't get their schoolwork done without a laptop and an internet connection now,” says Roland, “it’s not a level playing field.”
Roland feels a “frustrated sadness” about the digital divide - the gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t. He believes lack of access to tech and connectivity directly impacts children’s educational achievement.
kids literally can't get their schoolwork done without a laptop and an internet connection now... it’s not a level playing field
“I think it's massive. I wouldn't have gotten very far if I couldn't do my homework. That's the difference. You know, their homework will be assigned online, and they'll submit it online. There's not really an alternative.”
Based in Palmerston North, Digits’ mission is to deliver solutions to digital inclusion challenges in the Manawatū region. It does this by providing struggling families with an affordable, refurbished Chromebook.
Families are referred to the service through their school, WINZ, family or friends who have used the service, or sometimes they self-refer.
They pay the laptop off at just $4 per week, up to a total of $200 – around half what they’d pay at a retailer. Digits covers the rest of the cost thanks to support from The Lion Foundation, Eastern and Central Community Trust, Palmerston North City Council, Community Organisation Grants Scheme, Lottery, Pub Charity and Conbrio Technology.
For whanau accessing the service, it’s a budget-friendly alternative to paying upfront, or on credit, and the laptop is theirs to keep. Free digital literacy tuition and discounted Skinny internet connections are also available.
Roland’s job is to present families with their tech and teach them how to use it. There are new families at each monthly intake and Roland says for many whanau, receiving their tech is a big deal. “For the kids, it’s their first computer. This is their very first pretty important possession that they can call their own. And the excitement is what I thrive on.”
For the kids, it’s their first computer. This is their very first pretty important possession that they can call their own. And the excitement is what I thrive on.
Some kids immediately want to start gaming, while others have different priorities.
“One standout story was a schoolboy - he must have been 12 or 13 and he was so excited. He was with his mum, and he said, ‘Hey mum, can I run spreadsheets on this?’. I really enjoy it when my stereotypes are blown up.”
There’s strong community demand for Digits’ services. Between 1st October and 1st September 2022, the organisation distributed 175 Chromebooks. They also gave out 40 Skinny Jump modems. Roland is humbled by people’s gratitude. At the last handover session, a parent went out of their way to thank him for his help and shake his hand.
“I think people are genuinely grateful for being able to provide for their kids, especially provide these laptops and also in a lot of cases, get an internet connection. Without Digits, it wouldn’t be possible,” explains Roland.
“It's been a wonderful thing to get involved with.”
-- by Renee Murphy