After many learners had their access to tertiary education and training interrupted by COVID-19, the Technology Access Fund for Learners (TAFL) was launched to help tertiary institutes support their students. For Luana Tonga, a first year Bachelor of Social Services student at UCOL, this programme wasn’t just another COVID announcement – getting a laptop through the fund is what has kept her in study this year.
It’s not easy being a full time student and a full time mum of three – while also trying to fit in casual shifts at a contact centre to make ends meet. Luana did own a laptop, but it was such an old and cheap model that it had constant issues, making even ‘easy’ tasks a nightmare. When Alert Level 4 came around this had a huge impact on Luana’s ability to learn from home. She was thrilled when she heard she might be able to get a laptop through UCOL and the Technology Access Fund for Learners.
“I gave UCOL a call, and they got me a device that same day, it was amazing. It’s been just so helpful – like the times I can’t get in to campus because I’m out of petrol, or the kids are sick, I still have that option at home. At night time, when the kids are asleep I get time to do more study, and really tackle my self-directed learning.”
Luana will be able to use the device throughout her entire degree, returning it once her studies are fully completed.
Luana’s situation isn’t an uncommon one, says Student Success Senior Manager Victoria Blockley-Powell. “The 75 students who received a Chromebook for their studies through the Fund are all hardworking, passionate students. We’ve followed up with a lot of them, and they’ve said that having their own device has made them more determined. Without it, many say they would have had to drop out.”
As well as improving students’ access to technology, UCOL has met an increased demand for hardship grants this year. After Luana’s car had issues with its Warrant earlier this year, she got help from WINZ that was then backed up with some food and petrol vouchers from UCOL.
One of the biggest learning steps for Luana has been learning to ask for help when she needs it. “Sometimes life happens, and it does makes me think, should I really be studying? But my kids are my motivation, my backbone.”
Luana credits the UCOL team for helping keep her on track as she aims for an A average this semester. “They’re so lovely, so supportive here. Ang, one of the Engagement Coordinators, will flick me a message and be like ‘Are you alright?’ any time she hasn’t seen me for a day. The Learning Advisors are happy to help you with any question.
“My programme is three years long, but I’ve already started making plans to do my Masters and become a registered social worker. I’ve seen the struggles my nieces and nephews have gone through - with a degree behind me, I’ll have the knowledge to better help them.”
Image: Lynda Whale, Library Assistant, with one of the student Chromebooks.