What you need to know about BYOD and your child’s digital school needs

by Owen McCarthy


Since BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) became the norm for many schools, parents have sometimes been left feeling confused when faced with the myriad options available to them. Sometimes you may feel left in the dark as to what your child may be doing with their device, especially when away from the secure environment of the classroom.

As a former teacher, I’m aware of the pitfalls that may strike, as well as the many options schools face. At the end of this post, I’ll be reverting to type and giving you some homework to do. Hopefully you’ll feel a lot more secure and know where both you and your offspring are heading.


Devices are used for a variety of learning needs, and as the student progresses through the education system, these needs will undoubtedly grow more complex. Let’s break the needs down.

  1. Curriculum-based activities: This can include a range of things, from accessing the National Library through to logging into your Mathletics account. Just about every curriculum area has some learning component available. Your school should be able to tell you which ones your little angel requires. In most cases, they will actually download them onto your darling’s device at school.
  2. Coding: This is a newish and fast-growing area. There are coding activities available to New Entrants, and they grow in sophistication and complexity as you progress. Generally your school will let you know which coding applications they use. Sometimes these may be done on school-owned devices only, but it pays to check.
  3. Information Skills: Everyone knows how to use Google and other search devices. Learning the range of information skills needed takes time and the scaffolding of those skills starts at an early age. From fact finding to inferencing to synthesising, your sweetie’s skills will grow in complexity. Suffice to say, they need access to the World Wide Web.
  4. Multimedia activities: From creating animations to making music, this area is huge. Generally, schools that specialise in certain areas (for example movie-making or running a TV or Radio Studio) will have specialised devices for those functions. Once again, it pays to check.
  5. Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Presentation: Besides the best-known Microsoft Office, there are many free or open-source alternatives. Many schools use the Google Chrome environment, often requiring a Chromebook or similar device. Other schools use Open Source software such as Libre Office, and your Apple Schools may use devices containing Pages, Keynote and Numbers, which are included in the operating system.
  6. Collaboration: some devices provide access to a range of collaborative tools. If your classroom is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, devices may be used when working together in small groups or withdrawal groups, with everyone’s contributions displayed and shared in real time.

The Equipment: This is going to vary but here is a list of some of the devices commonly used in primary schools. Generally you will find the requirements will increase at secondary and tertiary level, but this too will be dependent on the kind of subjects your budding Einstein is taking. This isn’t an exhaustive list but gives you some indication of what schools may require or accept.


  1. Smartphones: If all you need is a way to get on the internet, your child may be able to use the mobile they already have. I have heard of schools where this is permitted, usually accompanied by an extensively worded Acceptable Use Policy. Chances are that in this case, the student will be using their device in a relatively limited capacity. See some of Firstin’s deals for Smartphones by clicking here.
  2. Chromebook: The great thing with the android-powered Chromebooks is that they don’t require a huge amount of power or disk-space, as everything happens in the Cloud. Generally, they come equipped with word-processor, slideshow tool, spreadsheet tool, internet and email access. They are capable, if limited devices, and generally inexpensive.
  3. Tablets: We’re all aware of the huge range of tablets out there, from the humble android-based tablet through to the laptop-like phablets, the iPad and Surfacebook Pro’s and all the in-between options. Versatile and compact, primary schools often provide covers that make them impervious to the slings and arrows of clumsy children. Generally they have enough battery power to last the entire school day. Firstin generally have a great selection of tablets and 2-in-one laptops.
  4. Laptops: Like the tablet, laptops range greatly in size and capability. I don’t personally know of any schools using the open-source Linux environment, but there are schools that cater across Windows, MacOS and Android environments. Laptop battery life varies, but most classrooms will have spaces where you can plug in your charger. Low-profile laptops like the MacBook Air and Lenovo’s Yoga range are lightweight and easy to carry around. They also tend to be on the fragile side, and you’ll need a robust carrycase or sleeve. See some of Firstin’s products here.



Security: Schools have robust policies and guidelines, aimed at protecting the student user, parent and teacher alike. Chances are, the school will insist on installing some proprietary software to ensure that all devices are kept safe and that all updates, apps and shared files are deployed on a regular basis. Therefore, some schools insist on everyone using the same equipment. It keeps costs down and ensures that control is simple. There are now some great products around that help parents take control of their cyber environments. It’s now possible to filter content, and even turn off the internet for those important occasions, like family dinners, homework, bathing and bedtime.  However, nothing beats making sure that young people understand that the internet is a fickle and sometimes dangerous world. Don’t be surprised if your child’s school exhibits some severe safety procedures. They are doing all they can to ensure your darling remains both physically as well as cyber-safe.


The Cost: Costs for student devices will vary, as will the type of devices specified by your particular school.  Some schools may provide leasing or rental options, using third-party providers such as Flexirent and providing your youngster with a device for a set period. Others may have providers that do bulk deals, resulting in significant cost savings.  Once you know your school’s requirements, make sure you do your homework and shop around. Let’s say your money-hungry offspring needs a tablet. Do they need a stylus as well? I’ve come across some classes that even do handwriting electronically these days, which is great for our trees and preventing further global warming.  Often sites such as ours will offer great deals on refurbished or used tablets, saving you a lot of money.

Some more places for you to go:

                  1. Netsafe NZ: This is a great starting point for the concerned parent with internet savvy offspring.
                  2. Netsafe’s BYOD page: despite their tendency to muddle children with baby goats, Netsafe does add that:

 If you’re thinking about giving your child a device or introducing them in the classroom, now’s the time to get clued up on how to help kids protect themselves and their personal information online.”


                  1. TKI NZ Te Kite Ipurangi is a toolkit for teachers and all people interested in education. Powered by the Ministry of Education, it contains lots of information, case studies and advice.
                  2. Ministry of Education pages for parents: Not just information on devices, but covers all you need to know about your child’s education journey.



Owen McCarthy had over 25 years’ experience in education, with most of the time heavily involved in teaching ICT. He now writes on a range of IT-related topics.

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