“Waste of money”: Sydney Grammar School bans laptops in class


blog When your writer got his primary and high school education — in the far flung remote town of Broken Hill — there were very few computers to be found at the school that I attended. Access to these mythical machines was only through dedicated ‘computer rooms’. As such, I have to say that I am rather jealous of students in today’s education system, for whom having their own personal laptop and/or table is the normal modus operandi.

But according to at least one school, these new-fangled devices are a “waste of money” and should be banned. The headmaster of Sydney’s prestigious Grammar School, John Vallance, has told The Australian (we recommend you click here for the full article) that the devices have been banned from his school and that Kevin Rudd’s $2.4 billion Digital Education Revolution (which put laptops in schools nationwide) was a waste of money:

“It didn’t really do anything except enrich Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard and Apple,’’ he said. “They’ve got very powerful lobby influence in the educational community.’’

To a certain extent, I agree with Vallance — I have children myself, and parents and teachers need to very carefully monitor how children use addictive forms of technology such as personal computing devices and the Internet. In addition, I agree the Digital Education Revolution was poorly managed, and ignored the real cost of managing laptops in schools. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from school-based IT managers on just this subject.

However, on the other hand, I would suggest that banning the devices entirely is probably going too far. We are rapidly approaching a stage in history where paper and pens will no longer be used in our education system — being replaced with electronic devices. And, of course, the workforce is already almost completely digitised. Forcing students off electronic platforms is not great preparation for life after school.

What do you think — how should this delicate balance be managed? Has Sydney Grammar School done the right thing, or gone too far?


  1. It would only be a waste of time if the school didn’t bother changing their curriculum to accommodate the technology to begin with. It’s like throwing a box of bandaids at someone who is about to walk into traffic.

    • Something Something Something [Tony Abbot] thinks its stupid to teach kids coding at early ages.

      Meanwhile over the Asia region, we are being left behind in the technology game.

    • “changing their curriculum to accommodate the technology to begin with.”

      Who does that though? the teachers? are those teachers even capable or qualified to do so? imho that should have been done before these devices ever arrived at schools.

      Its worth noting that it sounds easy when you just say ‘change curriculum’ but you probably have to understand that teachers likely spend their entire life accumulating said things to begin with. You just don’t magically change that overnight its a lot of work … get it wrong and you’ve screwed a generation of kids up with bad education simply because someone lobbied to put tablets in schools.

      I’m personally struggling to come up with a secondary subject (aside from those that would typically be held in a computer pool to begin with) would greatly benefit from an omnipresent device per student?

    • I still see private school kids (in particular) carrying home ginormous heavy backpacks full of massive text books:

      A/ I wonder how much damage this is doing to their back and growth in general
      B/ I wonder why the hell the kids arent simply issued a Tablet with all the text books for the entire year loaded onto them.

      Some of these principles need a swift kick to retirement home!

      • Are those text’s available in digital format would be the question? but yeah a kindle per student definitely see the benefits there.

        • If they aren’t I’m sure some well aimed legislation could force them to be made available in an industry standard format.

          Heck even a single state education dept mandating all text books be made available electronically or your book will be struck off the curriculum would produce the desired result.

      • I do know a private school where I live have year 7 get iPad as part of the school requirements as i sell about 30 every year for that purpose as a school discount before school start each year. Been going on for at least 4 years now.

        • It’s not really about whether a school has, or doesn’t have, computers, kindles or tablets, it’s about what they actually do with them. Time will tell if Mr Vallance is right. He gets credit from me for taking a stand at least.

          Do. Or do not. There is no try.

  2. Declaration of Interest – I am a former student of Sydney Grammar and Dr Vallance.

    It is definitely worth reading the full article, as it contextualises the policy. This is not about removing technology all together from the educational experience. This is about ensuring the high standard of teaching and learning at SGS continues – the results speak for themselves. Grammar is teaching computational thinking as part of the syllabus from the prep level, and they have been integrating technology for years. They want their students to learn more than digital skills, they want them to be able to form arguments and comprehend complex concepts. The skill of rational argument is not developed on Facebook or in the comments section of an article, it requires interaction – to that extent, laptops in the classroom are a distraction.

  3. For many people (including school children), the best way to learning, is to see and interact with something, to see what it’s boundaries are. Some times you need some thinking space to get an understanding of something, sometimes you need to work in a group to tease out ideas. Then there is how you present your understanding of what you have learnt to reinforce the learning, this can come in words, pictures, making short videos, creating web sites that link ideas together. This is what having 1-to-1 or shared computers do, those computers can be more powerful desktops in a computer lab, a tablet, a laptop or a smartphone. What the Rudd Digital Education Revolution did, was for the first time force schools and teachers to think of how to use those devices in the classroom, that was a culture shift that wasn’t happening quick enough. Forget about the vocational aspects of needing to use software and computers in the future workplace, the main role is find new ways of interacting with concepts and teaching students ways of learning, critical thinking, how to research a topic.


    I can only go off what Renai wrote about it, and unfortunately he’s left off the extent of the ban. I’m going to guess it’s only banned in non-computer subjects, the school does have computer subjects hopefully?

    His policy doesn’t really surprise me after locating some more info about him in the SMH: “In 2014 he was appointed by the Coalition government as a specialist reviewer of the national arts curriculum.” and “The long-serving leader of one of Sydney’s most prestigious schools, John Vallance, has resigned as headmaster from Sydney Grammar.”

    He would have been from the generation where “debugging” was picking moths out of the room size computer innards, and as he was a former musician, I doubt he has much love for anything “tech”.

    I do agree with this statement from him though “he argued in favour of a curriculum that balanced critiquing art with “making” it.”

    • “and as he was a former musician, I doubt he has much love for anything “tech”.” you clearly don’t know many musicians, unless you are making a joke about Apple users.

      • You may we’ll be right Matthews, I was picturing him as more a classical musician, but I guess it’s possible he likes to belt out some accadacca on a Gibson ;o)

  5. I imagine Dr Vallance mourns the passing of the ink well and the introduction of ball points and possibly long multiplication and division of money (£sd) which scarred my early learning.

    If computers help students to learn to type, they are filling a useful service.

    Apart from all the other ones.

  6. I can safely say that a large section of the school community is more interested in YouTube and Facebook instead of actually doing work. Kids would rather spend time trying to figure out how to bypass locked down laptops instead of studying.
    I don’t see it being a bad thing not having access to a laptop unless you are taking a computer class, anyone would think there is no other means to study.

  7. The Heading of this article gives the impression that laptops extra are banded outright, this is not true. Like mobile phones or any electronic tools devices have to have rules and regulations for their use. It’s hard enough for the teachers to engage the students attention without competing with these items. I think it’s a matter of ‘horses for courses’.

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