NSW DET signs $33m e-learning deal

The New South Wales Department of Education and Training has launched a $33 million e-learning project which will see public state schools and TAFE students provided with their own e-mail accounts and Web sites. The e-learning accounts will include e-mail, filtered Internet access and personal Web sites.

In a progressive rollout 1.33 million users - 1.2 million students and 130,000 teachers - will be connected by June 2003. The first 400,000 users are expected to be connected by the end of this year.

Unisys will develop the three-year project with Microsoft, Nortel and Optus.

Students will be able to access learning materials and library resources remotely and participate in collaborative work groups across the state through online discussion groups. Parents will also be able to ask their child's teacher by e-mail about matters such as attendance and academic progress.

John Watkins, the NSW Minister for Education and Training said students under the age of 18 would need parental permission to access an account.

He said the content of e-mails will be monitored and children will be protected from inappropriate content and e-mail filters, virus scanning and intrusion-detection packages.

A senior project manager from the IT bureau at the Department of Education Training said access will be via a single sign-on and a single point of entry, with users required to use the same user name and password for access.

The IT spokesperson also said that DET had finalised phase one of another project which has resulted in the linking of human resources systems and the loading of all 130,000 staff's personnel data.

Filtering technology in the $33 million initiative may not protect NSW public school students from receiving pornographic material, a computer expert said today.

Troy Rollo, chair of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Bulk E-mail, said, however, where a student's e-mail address can be accessed remotely, there was the possibility of receiving unsolicited, inappropriate material, known as spam.

"There is almost a certain chance that at least some of the students will be receiving spam," Rollo said.

"The department says they'll have the systems in place to prevent that [spamming]," Watkins said.

But Mr Rollo said blacklisting would not solve the problem because it would be difficult to identify all offending Web sites. "They're not in some regular location that you can always find them and there's a lot of them," he said.

He said students who listed their e-mail addresses on an Internet mailing list, or participated in Internet discussion boards, for example, were at risk.

The only way to prevent them receiving inappropriate material would be to establish an Intranet system which was completely sealed off from the public domain, he said.

The education department spokesman said schools would have the option of using only a pre-approved "white-listed" Web site facility, rather than having general Internet access.

Allen Koehn, Unisys general manager public sector, South Pacific, said Symantec filter technology, which searched for specific phrases and words, would block inappropriate material.

"The tool is there to deal with whatever level of restriction is needed, but the department still needs to figure out what is appropriate for each level," he said.

Meanwhile, the NSW Teachers Federation welcomed the initiative, but had concerns over adequate infrastructure such as cabling, IT backup and training for teachers.

"We're quite interested to ascertain what level of support will be made available in order to ensure that its introduction doesn't just fall flat," the federation's senior vice-president, Angelo Gavrielatos said. "It has to be supported by personnel and appropriate training and professional development for teachers in order to be able to maximise the potential use."

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