BYOD breaking parents' back-to-school budgets

1/24/19 3:37 PM

“Schools tell families what digital devices to buy for the start of term, and parents scrimp, save, borrow and beg to buy them.”

NZ consumer affairs commentator Rob Stock

Mandatory Bring Your Own Device policies. They save schools money - but it's a different story for parents. Critics argue BYOD is creating a dilemma with implications for a widening digital divide.

In Australian schools last year, reflecting a galloping international trend to BYOD, the average spend on school supplies nearly doubled.

In 2018, the per-family bill for back-to-school technology alone was $269 - and this year’s total is bound to go even higher.

Overall, parents spent 43% more on school supplies last year, according to a survey commissioned by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The increase was driven largely by the demand by schools for parent-supplied technology.

The average Australian family spend a total of $829 on new textbooks, school supplies and uniforms, up from $472 the previous year.

Technology is by far the biggest-ticket item parents are shelling out for.

And it’s not just upper-primary and secondary students who are packing learning devices next to their lunchboxes.

Thirty-three percent of families with kids aged five to seven were also expecting to up their spending on devices.

Can schools legally compel families to buy BYOD devices? Actually, no. But using words like “require” and “expect” makes it clear that parents have little real choice in the matter. 

How is this affordable?

Last year, the survey found, 29% of parents took advantage of instalment plans, while 42% purchased devices second-hand. Six out of ten gave their kids hand-me-downs, and 80% bought items on sale.

Here in New Zealand, where the federal government provides schools with free internet, uncapped data and subsidised devices for educators, there have been calls for tax rebates  to cover BYOD devices for students as well.

In lower-income areas, Kiwi parents and educators have established community trusts to buy devices that parents can lease-to-buy for a few dollars a week.

The Manaiakalani Education Trust, for example, serves a cluster of 12 Auckland schools. Its families are all paying $3.50 a week over three years to own their children's devices.

What about home access?

Closing the digital divide - or achieving digital equity - doesn’t stop with handing every child a device. Internet access at home is the other half of the equation.

The Ministry of Education estimates around 100,000 pupils from 40,000 households have no home access. These children are at an obvious disadvantage compared to their more affluent peers.

The new digital divide, observes commentator Rob Stock, is not so much a case of the haves and the have-nots - but the haves and have-mores.

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