GSSC students enjoy free internet and laptops as part of Australian-first project

By Madi Chwasta

In the lead-up to Term 2, Greater Shepparton Secondary College Year 12 student Lauren Millar was not sure how she was going to learn remotely without internet or a computer at home.

But she was given a lifeline.

Her family was chosen to be part of an Australian-first research project where 100 students from Years 10 to 12 at the college would receive a free laptop and wireless broadband internet for two years, provided by Telstra.

Participating families will be interviewed at various points throughout the trial, contributing to RMIT University research about low-socioeconomic households and the impact of digital inclusion.

Before getting the laptop, mother Jenny Millar said the family relied on internet from mobile phones, as broadband internet was too expensive.

“We only had mobile phone internet, and the kids don’t have a lot of data on their phones,” she said.

“They tended to swallow it up because of social media, and there wasn’t enough left for learning anyway.”

Jenny said she was glad Lauren and her Year 9 son Jayden would be on equal footing with students who had internet at home.

“Just because a child doesn’t come from a great economic background, doesn't mean they shouldn't have the same opportunities as others,” she said.

Lauren, who wants to study interior design at university, said she has been feeling more confident in completing the year successfully, even with the challenges caused by the pandemic.

“It’s been pretty difficult, but having the internet has made it a bit easier and less stressful,” she said.

She said having internet was beneficial not only for research, but to engage in live-streamed discussions with her teachers and classmates through Google Teams.

Less stress: the free laptop will help Lauren Millar as she completes Term 2 at home.

Greater Shepparton Secondary College executive principal Genevieve Simson said the benefits for the 100 selected families would be “immense”.

“With the challenges presented by coronavirus, our partnership with Telstra and RMIT University could not have come at a better time for those GSSC students lacking laptops and internet access for home learning,” she said.

RMIT University lead researcher Jenny Kennedy said this was the first opportunity to document the impact the absence of internet could have on families.

“The everyday experiences of families who are on or below the poverty line are poorly understood and inadequately documented,” she said.

“We will be able to use this knowledge to better understand diverse participation needs, and to develop future digital inclusion strategies for low-income households.”

Telstra regional affairs and sustainability executive Jules Scarlett said she was “thrilled” the company was able to provide the program for families in Shepparton.

The college has almost completed the handout of all laptops, and the first research data is expected in six months.


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