The end of the ‘Digital Education Revolution’?

“The Australian Government supports the use of new technologies in Australian schools to prepare students to learn, train and live in a digital world.” (sic)                 SOURCE

It has reached the stage where the contradictions in government education policy in Australia are leaving satirists with very little to parody. In a time where we are ‘falling behind’ and need to become more ‘technologically savvy’ there is a credibility chasm, widening as each month rolls by on the education calendar. Dot points on new syllabus documents, policy pronouncements, ‘declarations’ and rhetoric are fine when they are backed by credible decision-making and leadership.

It was not possible for me to answer parent questions tonight, at our fifth and apparently final DER NSW laptop briefing for parents and their children, about our school’s provision of laptops post-2013. We have no funding to supply laptops or tablets and no knowledge of what plans are afoot to address this issue. We practically have a fleet of close to 800 laptops to maintain. One parent said, “how can you just stop supplying laptops next year to some kids while others have them”?

What could I say that made any sense?

More to the point the principal has no idea when he will know the answer either. We were unable to say we are moving to a BYOD policy and to recommend devices. We just do not know what is going to happen. How do we balance several years with Lenovos and other years with BYOD or nothing? We certainly want to make a decision but have no idea what funding is to be available.

Many critics of the laptop rollout do not undertand the the DER NSW scheme was the greatest equity policy in the last 20 years in education. Kids got opportunity and many flourished. This rollout also gave state schools a welcome boost in the eyes of parents. It certainly was not perfect but vastly improved opportunities for pedagogy and gave us a sense of forward motion. There were some teachers and schools that could have engaged more fully with the program but overall, the chalkboards disappeared.

I rarely feel angry or frustrated knowing that life is far too short for such emotions. One just needs to get on with it. However, last year, I became very angry after discovering that the ‘savage’ budget cuts in education made to balance the inevitable ‘black holes’ newly elected governments need not have occurred as there was an ‘accounting error’. Actually, 2011 had a moment of disbelief at the federal budget, then anger too which has not subsided. The results really make it difficult for school leaders and teachers to operate as effectively as we might.

In short:

1. Schools in NSW have had funding slashed at the moment a respected panel of eminent citizens advised government to provide significantly higher levels of support for those doing ‘the heavy lifting’.

2. The federal government agreed with Mr Gonski and panel but have not detailed funding arrangements for the states.

3.  The federal government has ended funding for laptops and support that commenced in 2008.

4. State schools are unable to plan for their technology needs in 2014 due to lack of funding, political and leadership direction on this issue of fundamental importance.

5. A policy of Local Schools Local Decisions is increasingly being reported as in disarray by the media at the very moment when our schools need to plan in the face of change and implement sound ideas quickly.

It feels very bad to stand in front of hundreds of kids and their parents and say this is the last rollout of Year 9 laptops and there is no plan – at any level of our organisation, state or federal government – to sustain this or introduce improved technology in 2014 that I can share with you at this stage.

How can this be?

Editorials and commentators cannot see the logic behind these decisions either. Stephen Wilson, the ‘architect’ of the scheme in NSW said:

“I don’t think the Commonwealth Government can announce a programme of this importance, then say ‘that’s it’.” 

What I know to be true, we cannot afford to tread water or go backwards… :(

lenovos

What is your school planning to do in 2014 re: technology? Laptops, iPads, tablets or are just not sure how it is all going to pan out at all?

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The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

19 Comments

  1. Cameron:

    Don’t forget… This is an election year.

  2. John Wilson:

    Perhaps this issue could be championed by Federation.

  3. Troy:

    Oh, Darcy. I am with you 100%. Will the revolution continue without the laptops? I saw the laptops as an extension as to what was already being mandated in syllabi statements about ICT, but with the laptops it was actually reinforced. The DER program in NSW could be an example of how Federal and State governments can work together. While I find it a hideous decision, there will be many-teachers, parents, young people- who will say ‘told you so.’
    Re: John, maybe Federation should champion this area of importance. Then, maybe, Federation will be more than a tool for salary discussions. I would prefer the Federation to be pushing this issue than anyother.

  4. Andrew FitzSimons:

    We are at a really critical moment; as principal, I can not bear to start planning for 2014. Unravelling the program over the next three years; ie whilst Y9 complete their HSC and without a TSO is too awful to contemplate. Whilst expensive, they equate to about 2 casual days/student. When 86,000 are purchased, the industry concentrates and the the quality continues to improve. Dapto HS purchasing 206 each year, even if we had $, would be completely different. Staff who have mostly responded positively to the fierce pressure to develop ICT skills feel let down.

    Data projectors, white boards, Moodle , Edmodo, assessment schedules, assessment tasks, on line roll marking; an endless list of key functions all sit on the now reasonable expectation that each and every students will have a lap top.

    We can not slip back into chalk and talk!

  5. zero morale:

    our school exec decide that the 2013 laptop rollout to students will not happen given it will be the last laptops the school receives.
    instead we will be keeping them as class sets.
    now that should make a few 2013 year 9 parents extremely happy when the boss goes public!
    unfortunately it’s all we can do to ensure that some form of working computer bank will be in the school in 2014.

  6. IMHO:

    We knew the money would not last forever. The school I am at has invested heavily in DER netbooks. The view from the trenches, looks like we will continue to fund netbooks from our budget while considering co-payment options.
    If the Gronsky money ever lands on our collective doorsteps the $500 netbook would be an affordable line item.
    At the end of 2013, we will have every teaching space wirelessly networked, 1:1 across our whole school. The school now knows whether it is worth having a support person onsite.
    It wont be cheap but it _appears_ we will be paying for ongoing maintenance, having been spared the extreme cost hurdle of implementing from scratch. Alternatively you can walk away and let it all rust. Now that would be a waste.

  7. simon:

    Purely on the matter of expense, we might get on the chromebook bandwaggon. 2000 schools have signed up in the US so far. Key advantages: no maintenance and cheap hardware, eg, a US$250 samsung chromebook is perfectly viable.

  8. Henry Jones:

    Having just read this, I suggest you are unimaginative in your approach and display little understanding of what the 1-2-1 program was about. It was obvious from day 1 that the program was not going to be a never-ending bucket of funding to buy technology. So instead of wringing your hands over it, what are you doing about it? Whinging?
    How about responding by saying that the “Federal Government is subsidising purchases of educational laptops up to $750.00 through the taxation system. Buy a laptop and our school will be going to BYOD strategy. Your child can bring it to my school. We will provide them with 21st century learning, the laptop is just another workbook.” Despite all the objections schools all over the world are doing this, most of them never had DER in the first place, so they have by-passed those issues and gone where we should have gone when the DER was introduced.
    Oh, Stephen Wilson’s comments say more about his ego than Federal policy.

    • Darcy Moore:

      Thanks for your comment, Henry.

      Our plan is similiar to what you suggest but it is a little more complex than what you suggest for a range of reasons to do with funding and resources but I will not go into detail here.

      How does your school work in regards to technology? Link?

      • Henry Jones:

        We have a largely wired network, with far too few wireless DAPs. We have coaxial cable in parts, Cat5 cable in some and one fibre link. It is a network that has been designed by too many people with too few ICT skills and far too high opinions of their abilities over too long a period of time.
        We are going to BYOD, we cannot afford to supply laptops, or too many desktops. We need to put resources into wireless technologies, so we are forced to phase in year levels over time and I mean 2 years. Poor decision making over the last 4 years has disadvantaged us. A serious misunderstanding of the 1-2-1 program since day 1 means we have to change everything now. Exactly the sort of thing you are talking about above, with extras, frills and fries on the side.
        I am driving the program and have to be hard headed about it. I seriously expect to become really unpopular in doing so. In the end, though, it is going to work, because the kids are going to make it work. That is the only way it can work.

      • Henry Jones:

        Here is a link to another blog.
        http://colinfraser.org/2013/04/27/goodbye-der-and-hello-byod/
        He too comes from Adelaide. I only noticed this this morning.

  9. Henry Jones:

    Oh, sorry, i should also have asked if you have BYOD, then why do you need to recommend devices? That is not your problem, all you are doing is providing an internet connection. You do not even have to provide a print service! Get students to email things that need be printed to teachers, who can print them out. It is just a new way of working so why can you not move in that direction? Social equity issues? How many of your students do not have money for printing at school but have a smart phone? Anecdotal evidence from the US and Canada suggests that work standards are rising in schools with BYOD. Certainly, even low income families spend more on ICT in the same period their child is at school than schools do on that child.

  10. Darcy Moore:

    We have many equity and technical issues to address. The key challenge is being uncertain about our funding for 2013 (changes in how state schools sre funded) and the current arrangements we have re: programming eg OneNote doesn’t work too well on an iPhone. There ate many issues but consistent policy is needed.

    • Henry Jones:

      I agree, a consistent policy is needed, but I have spoken with a lot of ICT people, principals and deputies, many teachers and others. Usually the technology has nothing to do with it, equity issues are always spoken about but often given little more than lip service, it has always boiled down to control. “How do we control access to the Internet?” “How can we control what the students have on their desktops?” “How can we stop them from tethering their laptops to their phones?” My response is the same to all of these things. “Is it our responsibility to?” At what point are we teaching students about good digital citizenship? When I ask that question, I only get one response, ever, “What about Duty of Care?” For most of this stuff, it is entirely irrelevant, “Duty of Care” is a scary mantra, like “The Greater Good”. We can try to protect kids from the sharks, from each other, but should we try to protect them from their own stupidity? We are too busy making the playground safe that we loose sight of the fact that a fall off the swing can be a more lasting lesson than a take away of the swing. All we can do is educate them to use the tools properly not prevent them from learning.
      There are always equity issues, but as Michael Kirby pointed out, the public school system should not be privatised, I suggest all public funding should go to public schools, and every teacher and public school parent should be fighting for that. Education should not be privatised, and that would take care of equity issues.

  11. Danna Cooke:

    I am curious as to what quality/speed internet connection others have at their schools. I teach at a school in remote outback South Australia, currently students in years 9-12 have 1 to 1 laptops. The issue here is not access to hardware, but access to bandwith.

    I have experienced the frustration of waiting over 25 minutes for all students to go onto the same site at the same time. I have witnessed a student wait for over 30 minutes for the Google search page to load (not the results, just the entry page). I have waited over 45 minutes for a 5 minute video clip to download, I have had students unable to access any of their work for entire lessons because they can not access the server and everything is stored on there, including programs such as Word (students are not allowed/able to save anything on the hard-drive of the laptops).

    These are not one-off frustrations but daily events. And I am one of the lucky ones, in at least three of the secondary classrooms there is no wireless signal at all.

    I am forever frustrated when I read about innovative digital tools that would enhance engagement and learning in my classroom as I know there is no hope of them working in a timely manner.

    The IT manager at the school has told me that there is “no issue” with the internet connection or speed at the school. I’m not a tech-head, but logic dictates that there has to be something that can be done to improve the situation.

    I feel that I have little option but to return to textbooks and exercise books at least for the remainder of this semester, as a History teacher there is a lot of content I need to address in the curriculum and I honestly don’t have time to waste waiting for websites to load, or video clips to download.

    In reply to your original question Darcy – I do not know what our school is planning to do regarding technology in 2014, there seems to be a lack of interest or urgency regarding anything technological, last year 20-odd brand new laptops sat unused for over 3 terms because they could not be connected to the network, and the 3 rooms with no WiFi signal have had a booster sitting in them for over 6 months, it just hasn’t been activated. Technology and access to it does not appear to be a priority here.

    • Darcy Moore:

      Hi Dana,

      That sounds like an extraordinarily painful period of time for students to wait. We do not have these kinds of issues although occasionally it is slow. Maybe the NBN will make a difference at your school?

      If you had read my blog since about 2008 you would have heard my frustration at the lack of urgency in Australian education circles about effectively integrating technology. It is still a major issue. Keep fighting the good fight for your students. Pen and paper is not much good to them any more. Surely your Boss is keen to have her school, or his, be a savvy place to learn and teach?

      • Danna Cooke:

        Hi Darcy,

        First-time visiting your blog tonight, but still poking around to see what you have to say :-)

        Initially I was excited about the NBN but my town is not even listed on the 3 year projected roll-out map.

        I think the boss is keen to have the school ‘appear’ to be a savvy place to learn and teach. 1 to 1 laptops for secondary students, multiple iPads in most classrooms, and IWBs in every teaching space. The problem is the IWBs are basically used as projection screens, unfortunately there has been no T&D on how to use them effectively. I think our remote location plays a part in this, it is not easy to arrange someone to come and facilitate training.

        In the past I have set up content on Wikis, Edmodo, Class Dojo and other sites at home, but when at school the students just can’t access the content. I’m currently experimenting with interactive Flash presentations that I can load onto the server. I haven’t trialed it with the students yet so I’m not sure how effective that will be.

        I’m generally very able when it comes to using programs and apps, but I don’t understand the bits and pieces behind the screen so I get very frustrated when something works perfectly well at home but not at school. I like to think there is a solution to every problem, but this one stumps me!

        I’m enjoying your blog so far, and I’m sure I will be back.

  12. Dennis:

    I think that tax payers pay so much that at least the state and federal can cough up the money at least till 2015.

  13. Sarah:

    At my daughter’s school, they want them to purchase iPads. What if you can not afford them? They said you have to bring an iPad. This is becoming a serious issue. I think that they should not have introduced and made the commitment of the free laptops. Students before 2008 survived and even in the olden days, they did not have technology. The laptop is just convenient. Now, schools say to BYOD. Schools have computer rooms anyway, that they can access. They should also try to use books more often as the priority resource. This is just my opinion, please take no offense if this comment has offended anyone.

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