Despite claims for the Federal Government as recent as September that its computers in schools program was on track for completion in December, a joint committee session has heard that the program will now be pushed back to early 2012.
Speaking at the a joint committee hearing into the Digital Education Revolution Program – National Secondary Schools Computer Fund, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ (DEEWR) Dr Evan Arthur said about 75 per cent of PCs had been delivered to date and were ‘operational’ and the department was focused on delivering the porgam by the start of the 2012 school year.
“The thing to do is to ensure that they are available for the start of the school year,” he said.
In October last year, the Federal Government also claimed it was on track to fully deliver a total of 696,000 PCs under its computers in schools program, despite rollout rates at the time suggesting a shortfall of some 203,143 computers by the initial December 2011 deadline.
In February, the program received a generally positive review by the commonwealth auditor-general, however, a number of points about the administration of the program were raised.
Despite the completion date being pushed back, Arthur said the computers in schools program has been one of the better administered and successful government programs he had been a part of.
“In my experience… there have been very few frustrations in this [program] and it has gone forth in a very cooperative way with all players,” Arthur said. “At the start of the program there were disagreements… which centred around responsibility for the payment of costs in addition to the costs of the actual computer.
“As a result of those discussions, this government made the decision to change the funding basis of the program and provide an additional $807 million and reach a specific agreement with states and territories via COAG on funding responsibilities for the program. Since then, there has been no substantive difficulties with the administration of the program.”
Arthur said there had always been questions of detail with the program, however, these had been dealt with in an “entirely cooperative fashion” with states and territories.
“At the same time as the discussions about funding responsibility were being played out, we reached a complete agreement on how to administer the program, the roles of the commonwealth, states and territories, the Catholic and independent education authorities…” he said. “All of the deadlines for the program… were all achieved and indeed at no point has the program failed to meet any of its pre-existing timetable commitments.”
Computers in schools transforming education IT departments
Arthur added that the computers in schools program had a dramatic impact on the shape of school IT departments across the nation being a catalyst for a spate of networking and other IT infrastructure upgrades in schools.
“In schools right around Australia what you would have found prior to this program is a whole variety, and in many cases, inadequate networking inside the schools. You have a computer in schools, but how you use it in the classroom is incredibly varied," he said.
“What you will largely find, as a result of the program, is that there has been entirely a refresh of those activities with a complete rollout of very high-specification wireless networks and a whole range of support structures to make that work – including the effective management of the identity of students."
Arthur said that now the effective process of installing a new computer in a NSW government state high school was greatly simplified.
“Now, the process… is essentially that you need to know the log-on identity of a student, hit the computer, and it is installed. It works. All of the stuff has been done on a standardised basis… so there has been significant progress to the absolute precondition for the effective use of technology in education: that the technology just works.”
Commenting on the types of technology being invested in, Arthur said that the programs flexibility in allowing schools to determine which platforms were purchased meant a wide range of netbooks, laptops, tablet PCs and desktop PCs had been purchased.
“The majority of developments have been… netbooks… but there have also been people who have used the program to buy desktops and every configuration in between,” he said.
“Of late, there has been increasing investment in slates – be that an iPad or some of the alternate providers of that form of device, but they are in the minority.”
Other iterations included the purchase of laptops for year nine students who were then allowed to keep the laptops for their own use once they have left school.