Auditor-General finds tech inequity in schools

Mary Fogarty
Research/Industrial Officer

The Auditor-General's report finds many school networks are beyond the end of their useful life

A recent report from the NSW Auditor-General revealed there are serious problems with the use of technology in schools across the state.

These problems are a direct result of the fact that funding for the program to deliver on information and communication technologies (ICT) in schools has not increased since 2004.

The report found “the average age of devices in NSW is over four years old”. This means that most devices in schools are not reliable and depend on greater maintenance and support.

There is also an issue with more demanding applications. The report also found that “many school networks are beyond the end of their useful life”. The effect of this on schools is that fewer students and teachers can access wireless networks simultaneously.

The “Bring Your Own Device” scheme operating in some schools was criticised in the report because the Department presently does not know how many schools have implemented the scheme. The report noted that having a vast range of different types of devices “affects how schools are using ICT and places demands on the network and type of support the Department must provide”.

The provision or non-provision of computers for teachers was discussed in detail in the report. It was noted that “the Commonwealth Government’s Digital Education Revolution program provided teachers of secondary school students with laptops from 2009 to 2013”. The report then stated that “teachers’ working days extend outside the classroom hours and teachers need access to devices for activities for lesson preparation and student assessment”.

The Auditor-General commented on the fact that “most other states and territories provide all teachers with a laptop for use in and outside the classroom or offer subsidised access to one”. Inequities in the provision of ICT funding was highlighted throughout the report.

It was noted that the “Department’s current funding model for ICT is not adequately addressing a growing gap in the provision of contemporary ICT in classrooms between schools able to access funding from other sources and those which cannot”.

This reliance on school-based fundraising was cited by the report as contributing to broader inequities in access. It cited a 2016 survey of teachers that indicated secondary school students in lower socio-economic areas had fewer opportunities to use technology compared with those in higher socio-economic areas.

The lack of provision of ICT courses for teachers was cited in the report as another inequity.

Apart from the fact very few courses are being offered, most of these are run in Sydney which limits the number that rural and regional schools attend because of the cost of courses and the provision of relief teachers.

The Auditor-General’s report included a table showing “Proportion of students at or above proficient standard in ICT literacy”.

The ICT literacy of a sample of Year 6 and Year 10 NSW students was shown to fall between 2011 and 2014.

This fall was greater than in other states and territories. In concluding, the Auditor-General found that several factors are reducing the effective use of ICT in the classroom. These are primarily:

  • ageing ICT equipment and inadequate wireless networks
  • variable student access to devices at school
  • variable teacher access to centrally provided devices to use outside the classroom.

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