Digital Education Revolution broadly on track


The Federal Government’s auditor yesterday revealed Labor’s $2.2 billion dollar Digital Education Revolution was well placed to deliver one computer to every student in Years 9 to 12, by the end of 2011.

The DER is a project started by then newly-elected Labor Government in 2007 which aims to change both learning and teaching practices across all educational institutions in Australia. Its major component is the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund (NSSCF) which allocates funding to take all Australian secondary schools to a computer to student ratio of 1:1.

An official audit released yesterday of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), revealed the computer to student ratio across Australia was already better than 1:2 in September 2010, with data ranging from 1:1.3 to 1:2.5, including an indefinite number of schools which have already achieved the 1:1 ratio. Computer installation is predicted to be completed by early 2012.

“The ANAO recognises the significant achievement by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in quickly establishing efficient and inclusive processes to implement the Fund,” the auditor wrote.

However, the report also said the DEEWR didn’t act to increase transparency and accountability to ensure the Government’s money were being spent for the right purpose. The audit found funding agreements with non-governmental education authorities to achieve the ratio of 1:1 did not provide for annual audited financial acquittals. Also, the ANAO recommended the DEEWR ask all educational institutions to report on the progress of the new computers’ deployment to better gauge the outcomes of the program.

A better control of data collected from funding applications – the ANAO stated – was also needed to avoid over and underfunding of schools. So far there have been 460 instances – 16 per cent of 2929 schools – which contained anomalous data. According to the audit, in most cases the size of the discrepancies was in the vicinity of near 10 computers, an amount which translates into $10,000 funding.

Furthermore, according to the audit, the DEEWR could have strengthened some aspects of its delivery plan, in order to meet the needs of value for money of all institutions. Although the department encouraged education authorities to adopt centralised purchasing processes to access better prices, the size of the authority influenced the outcome of the transactions. Larger organisations could access better value than smaller ones.

Other goals to be achieved by the DER include bringing high-speed broadband to schools through an investment of $100 million, supporting ICT professional development – with an expense of $40 million – and cover the on-costs of implementing the NSSCF.

In the meantime, 77 per cent of school principles interviewed to complete the audit said they were satisfied about the prompt installation of new computers and about 70 per cent believed the NSSCF was helping prepare students to live and work in a digital world.

In its own statement, the department noted the Auditor General’s main recommendations focused on reporting obligations for future DER funding agreements and strengthening external reporting on performance to stakeholders. “The Department agrees with the recommendations and has begun work implementing them,” it wrote.

Opposition criticism
However, not everyone agrees that the findings of the auditor were positive. In a statement yesterday, Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the report exposed that the program was a “farce”.

“In June 2010, Julia Gillard paraded through a school to deliver what was supposedly the 300,000th computer, but this report shows that by the end of 2010 there were only 268,000 computers installed,” said Pyne in a statement. “Either Julia Gillard engaged in a stunt, or 32,000 computers have remained uninstalled, uselessly sitting in boxes gathering dust since June last year, which is much worse.”

Pyne said it was unlikely that the rest of the 700,000 PCs still to be delivered would end up in students’ hands before the end of 2011. “If after three years they have delivered only a third of the computers, then it seems unlikely they will manage to install the remaining two thirds in less than one year,” Pyne said.

The politician also pointed out that the report noted only a third of principals in schools did not have the resources to utilise the computers as delivered. “This would back up the information we have received that computers delivered often remain in boxes for months,” he said.

Image credit: Alicja Stolarczyk, royalty free


  1. I’m glad my daughter is growing up in an era where ICT plays such an integral part of the education experience.

    I knew by the age of ten what I wanted to do – (hands up who also started on VIC20s and Commodore 64s?) – but was never exposed to computing in a school environment until Year 10 – (and that was just doing spreadsheets in an accounting class) – and even word processing was frowned upon in every class subject other than English.

    (I remember I started doing chemistry pracs in year 11 on computer, and got in trouble because my printer couldn’t do the superscripts and subscripts in chemical equations – I was told to fix it or hand write the pracs – so I wrote my own print driver!)

    At the school my daughter is attending, they are expected to be presenting to class using PowerPoint by Grade 3!

    Oh my how times have changed – (or I’m old, or both)…

    • Mainframes in the late 70s. ;)

      Our first personal computer was a Microbee (Australian designed and made), in 1984 I think. Then Commodores, a peculiar work-sourced laptop whose name I don’t remember (it ran Wordstar), and Macs (starting with the LCIII).

      All my kids grew up with computers, the eldest from age 5, the younger ones from age 2. It’s benefited them a great deal in many ways, including teaching an interesting combination of logical and lateral thinking.

      My parents use computers effectively (actually know what they’re doing), at 80.

      I’ve taught using computers, taught their use, and was involved in pioneering remote teaching via computers. I’ve seen the opportunity to access a multi-featured machine, which won’t judge or belittle you, empower the most disadvantaged or damaged students.

      Technology, especially that which connects us with more information and other people, is an opportunity for learning and growth, whatever your age or background. :)

  2. As a recently finished high school student, and having participated in a tablet-pc trial for a year in 10th grade, I can safely say that I am glad I finished before the practice becomes widespread. Learning was never so inhibited and constrained by the computers’ speed and capabilities, classes never so inflexible. Technical issues arised every 10 minutes and people dropped and broke their laptops. There is nothing wrong with paper, a pen, and a knowledgable and committed teacher at the front of the classroom.

    • The technology is there for a heavily intergrated ICT class to work, it’s just unfortunately teaching styles and, in some cases, budgets aren’t ready yet.

      The key problem is the noticability factor. Any technology that you are overly aware that you are using because you are unfamliar with it will cause problems. And that is the problem, technology as it is now is complicated, sometimes overly so.

      • I agree with the last part of your comment – however I still don’t believe classrooms are ready for it. The IT budget of our school would be one of the highest in the state, yet we were still unable to deliver enough wireless bandwidth for the computers, even with 3 wireless routers in one room. Multiply this across every room in the school, and you have a lot of routers to break (which they frequently did).
        It’s also the inability of most students to concentrate when they have an entire world of internet and flash games to entertain them that also forms part of the problem.

          • Hmm…something definitely up config-wise then. I’m betting they were all operating on the same channel. APs should be split evenly between 1, 6, and 11.

          • Considering the density of routers he was proposing (3 per room) there is simply not enough channels to allow for uncontented operation.

          • Exactly. The average laptop has the ability (even if you decrease the power to the antennas on the access points to avoid this problem) to broadcast through at most say, 4 connected classrooms. In these classrooms you each have thirty laptops, and three APs.

            Now an isolated classroom with three APs and thirty students would load balance just fine. You will be able to get bandwidth of say 2-4Mbps to each student without problems. However, with connected classrooms, the classroom next to yours will begin to contend with the local classroom. Meaning that all that effort to setup that single classroom so that you have uncontented access is nullifed by the fact you have the exact same setup, using the exact same channels, 10 meters away through a wall.

            The only way you could prevent this is to line the walls and doors with a material that absorbs the microwave radition a the specific freqencies WiFi operate, but I can’t see that being cheap at all, or even possible.

            As I said, it will be impossible for them to deliever an uncontended service.

          • Well they can, just not through wireless n. They would probably have to use wireless gigabit

            However that has just been standardized, so don’t expect anything anytime soon

            I don’t even know if the laptops handed out are wireless n compatible, when it started in 2007 I don’t think there were any laptops then with wireless-n (at least not the low grade ones that students received through the program)

          • Dude, the fact that standards do exist out of the standard 2.4GHz WiFi channels does not excuse the fact that they are not widely support.

            It’s the same reason why if Telstra turned on their LTE network tomorrow, they wouldn’t have anyone using it because everyone still has handsets and doogles that only support HSPA+.

            I realise they could overcome the “spectrum shortage” by an alternative WiFi standard. But the majority of devices support, and only support 2.4GHz WiFi which has is capable of 3 uncontented channels at Ch 1, 6 and 11.

            How would you like it if you brought a laptop for you son or daughter through you school, only to find when you get home it only supports some obsure standard of WiFi that the schools provisioned? It wouldn’t go down well.

          • Dude I wasn’t arguing with you….(I agree with you)

            I was just stating that if you wanted to do what was being mentioned, you would have had to use wireless gigabit, which (as you) and I have said, just got standardized and so the hardware ecosystem is barely out yet

        • I think the “one laptop per child” idea is flawed. Because I don’t think a laptop is the most efficent medium to facilate general learning (ITC learning is a different story). So the idea of attempting a WiFi load balancing system to achieve (by the sounds of it) connectivity for all students, which althrough it goes hand in hand with the “one laptop per child” idea is being convienced by a fundementally flawed notion that if you give students ICT skills like laptops it will allow them to enhance their learning.

          Thinking this seems odd coming from a tech junkie and Computer Scientist I know, especially a GenY one, but still, it’s what I think. Not everyone’s brains are built like us, not everyone has that grasp of technology like we do.

          As for the distractions, I’d call them passive distractions (as oppossed to active ones) and the students will need to learn to deal with them if they are to function in the outside world. It’s the same flawed idea like not giving employees Internet access will actually increase their productivity. You want to engage with employees and get them focused on their work, not give them no other option, because then they will come to resent it. I know a lot of people who resented highschool for exactly the same reason.

          To clarify, a passive distraction is a distraction which you can ignore, i.e. e-mail, facebook, IM, SMS. An active distraction is one you have to deal with straight away, i.e. phone ringing, being called into an impromptu meeting. That is to say a passive distraction is a distraction which requires self control.

          Given the amount of information we are exposed to on a daily basis I think teaching students in high school on how to deal with passive distractions will be a very helpful skill when they come into the workforce.

          • Remember you said that when your daughter goes to High School and gets sent home because she was too busy on Facebook (or whatever the popular social networking thing of the day is in a decade, Diaspora maybe?) to do her assigned work. ^_^

          • Its really not as simple as that, we are dealing with teenagers here.

            This can actually turn out to be quite a significant problem, at least with books you are ‘forced’ to focus on the material being taught, where as the amount of procrastination with people on laptops on playing and whatnot (hell it happens here at uni so often, and we are dealing with ‘adults’ now)

            There study done that showed that students that use laptops in lectures learn (on average) close to nothing on the material being taught if they procrastinate

            And since these are student owned laptops, there isn’t any provisioning software to ‘stop’ them from procastinating

          • Of course it’s not that simple. I’m not saying “ignore the problem” I’m saying that teaching studies how to deal with passive distractions constructively and time manage is something that needs to be focused on very heavily by schools. I don’t actually remember being taught these kinds of skills until I got to Uni, and even then it was a workshop I had to actively sign up for.

            I’m a strong believe of teaching students how to learn not just throwing a whole lot of information at them and expecting them to absorb it. This is especially important as we are, as you said, dealing with teenagers here.

            The whole concept of what studying for that Calculus test could mean for them is often completely lost on teenagers, I know it was lost on me but someone I still managed to scrape through with above average marks (to be honest I think it was because I had nothing better to do).

          • The problem essentially is that you want to prevent students from procrastinating as much as possible, and giving them laptops actually does the opposite

            It wouldn’t be an issue if the students were handed the laptops at school before class which had a stripped down version of an OS so they couldn’t procrastinate, but in this case they will probably just come into school with facebook/games etc etc on their laptops

            Books are nice for the specific reason that they limit information, so its obvious when the students are procrastinating and not paying attention

          • Of course, that’s taking active measures agianst student procasitnation works, but at some point you need to set the students loose into the real world.

            How many of your friends at Uni have flaked out in their first year of Uni because they couldn’t handle the freedom?

            I’m not saying active measures are bad, and they shouldn’t be utlised, but teaching students how to manage their time is an important skill you need to introduce them too as well, one that has been curiously absent of my high school, and apparently the same applies to my friends.

  3. I still don’t know what who or how the link the between having a good education and computers was established. I realise that IT Companies probably assisted the Labor Government in their thinking but I have yet to see an unbiased report anywhere that states computers improve a childs’s education. I have seen numerous reports however stating quite the contrary. In fact several studies indicate that students are in fact worse off with computers. And yet Gillard and co have led us to eblieve that if you don’t have a computer you can’t be educated. Quite frankly the thought of my child glued to a computer screen all day instead of learning scares the hell out of me. A computer is merely a tool. It’s not the be all and end all. With that in mind a far smarter approach would be this. Educate childred properly in years 1 – 12. i.e. teachers, books, and good old blackboards. Then on the basis of this sound education you introduce year 13 dedicated soley to applied computer knowledge. i.e. you now have the education and knowledge to apply your knowledge properly using a computer. Unfortunately the other way round does not work. i see it everyday. People using computers but not understanding what it’s doing or even whether the outcomes are correct. they blithely accept what the computer tells them. Of course this logical approach would never be accepted simply because of greed and money. IT companies want to sell the wares to all year groups. Please note. Knowing how to use an iphone or a tablet PC is not an education. Understanding Maths, Physics etc. i.

    • There isn’t any link, in fact there was a study done (finding it now) that showed quite the opposite, students with laptops at uni’s (this was done at universities), on average, learnt a lot less then students without a laptop because they listened to the lecture material, where as people with laptops were far more likely to procrastinate on material irrelevant to the lecture

  4. There is a lot of focus on provision of laptops to students – probably as its a easy thing to measure. I believe the real success measure should be when my daughters access their prescribed textbooks as online resources rather than having to carry a couple of trees back and forth to school. We are still teaching our children to use 19th century information sources rather than how they will operate in the real world.

    • +1

      But you can’t completely eliminate the “tree supported books” until everyone has the laptops to access the “electron supported” versions.

  5. Thought for the day. Is mankind becoming too smart for it’s own good? I read somewhere that MIT was digitising their whole library and doing away textbooks. Lets see now. All mankinds acquired knowledge for thousands of years in electronic format. One large solar flare or emp from the sun and we back to the stone age. The books in my library will be just fine and I don’t need to plug them in anywhere to read them. They don’t require batteries. Do you know how to make a candle let alone a microchip? Lets not go the way of the dinosaurs. (although we might do the planet a favour). Paul those 19th century resources have worked for hundreds of years. I agree though. Carrying tons of books around is stupid. But here’s an old fashioned thought. Bring back the old school desks with the lids that are assigned to students and keep a lot of your books at school. Instead of moving around classrooms all day you stay in one classroom and the teacher moves around. Finally I still can’t read a book, make notes or highlight on or from electronic text. Writing (with a pen) assists greatly with memory retention. Or perhaps we shouldn’t be remembering anything? Anecdotally I’m a senior manager with a large accounting firm. We’ve reached the point now where we won’t recruit people under the age of about 30. Why. They complete airheads. Sorry to be base but thats it in a nutshell. Haven’t got a clue.

    • First of all, books are just as susceptible to fire and earthquakes as electronic copies of books are. But you can easily backup a digitized copy of a book, store it on the other side of the world and you’re protected, even against “solar flares”: you can even restore the backup transparently, in an instant!

      (Besides, a solar flare powerful enough to wipe out all hard drives on the planet is going to be pretty devastating to humanity itself…)

      Keeping your books at school doesn’t help when you have to do homework. You have to take all those books home anyway.

      Finally, there’s no reason why the software can’t let you make notes and highlight passages on your ebooks. In fact, many ebook readers let you do just that today: they even let you search through your highlighted passages so you don’t have to manually flip through pages to find them again.

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