Laptop funding loss to hurt

Sue Simpson
Research Officer

Laptop funding loss to hurt

The expiry of Digital Education Revolution funding has teachers worried about laptop use in classrooms.

The majority of respondents to Federation’s online survey on the Digital Education Revolution's laptop rollout were positive about the program. However, they were concerned at the loss of the technology support officer (TSO) position at the end of the year and the impact on equity of the Department of Education’s Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.

Of the more than 200 principals and teachers who responded to the survey:

  • 75 per cent stated that students had integrated laptop use either well or very well into their learning
  • 78 per cent stated that teachers had integrated laptop use either well or very well into their teaching
  • 81 per cent stated that the loss of government-provided student laptops with common software would have either a very significant or significant impact on teaching and learning
  • 95 per cent stated that the loss of the TSO position would be significant, including 79 per cent who stated the loss would be very significant
  • 85 per cent stated that the introduction of a BYOD policy would have a very significant or significant impact on teaching and learning.

The survey showed substantial support for the laptop rollout and in particular for the role of the TSO. No respondent believed that the loss of the TSO position would be a good thing.

One respondent wrote, “We use the TSO for more than just laptops. He does whole of school business and without this things would be in shambles again.”

Another respondent stated that “the biggest impact will come from the loss of our TSO. This is a massively backward step and will not only increase teacher workload but will create inefficiencies all over the school”.

One respondent was quite disbelieving, writing, “It is unbelievable to think that any government could start a one to one laptop rollout and then cancel it after only five years. Schools cannot afford to fund the ongoing hardware requirement. Teachers have all adjusted their teaching programs.”

Another respondent stated, “The loss of our TSO will leave a huge hole. These people can’t be serious.”

Supporters of the laptop rollout insisted the program enabled students in low SES areas to access the technology. Its end would increase the gap between the haves and the have nots. BYOD policies would not work for poor families, who struggle to have even one computer with internet access let alone provide a device for each school student in the family. It would not work for whole schools in disadvantaged areas and for more comprehensive schools it could increase tension between those better off and those struggling to have the latest.

Issues were raised for students in distance education and juvenile justice centres.

As far as the classroom was concerned, respondents raised the issue of compatibility of BYOD devices to school networks, control over pornography and other inappropriate downloads, security, virus protection, maintenance and theft.

A minority of respondents were quite glad to see the end of the laptop rollout. Respondents complained of students playing games, watching videos and sending messages to one another in class. And that was when they had brought the computer to school, it was charged or they had forgotten their password. One respondent suggested it would be fantastic “if the teacher had a master switch to turn off games and downloaded material”.

Teachers should certainly not have to provide their own devices to roll mark or do other school administrative tasks.

The Digital Education Revolution (DER) National Partnership ran until June 30, 2013. However, the TSO position in schools and support provided by regional DER teams remain until the end of the calendar year. The DEC has just released a draft BYOD policy.

The State Budget has not provided funding even though the DEC-commissioned evaluation of the DER program reports improvements in student engagement and changes in teacher pedagogy as a result of the laptop rollout. Federation will nevertheless present the results of the survey to the DEC and call for continuation of the TSO position and funding for school computers. Schools require a dedicated technology funding
allocation.