NSW students and teachers shackled to old technology

ICT gaps hinder learning.

Students and teachers in NSW are being forced to rely on laptops and wireless networks issued as part of a federal program that ended in 2013, limiting the usefulness of IT as a teaching device in classrooms.

In its report on the use of ICT in schools, the NSW Audit Office found that the Education department’s vision for ‘any learning opportunity, anywhere, anytime’ is unlikely to be met with the “ageing stock of devices and wireless networks” currently in use in schools.

Around half of all devices in NSW public schools are at least five years old, and a large number of school wireless networks are beyond their useful life, the auditor revealed.

Many secondary schools in the state are still using laptops and wireless networks provided under the former Rudd government’s digital education revolution program, which launched in 2008 and finished in 2013.

“Older devices are less reliable, require greater maintenance and support, and cannot run demanding applications,” the audit office said.

The end-of-life wireless networks “limit the number of teachers and students who can access online content on wireless networks at the same time”, it added.

The problem largely stems from available cash: the audit office revealed funding for the state’s ‘technology for learning’ program has not increased since 2004 – despite growth in student numbers and greater emphasis on ICT as a learning tool.

The program provides money for one device per eight students every four years – which last year equated to an average of $23 per student for ICT.

Schools can choose whether to put this money towards desktops, tablets, or wireless access points, among other technology options.

They are expected to supplement funding for any extra technology themselves.

This model has created a “growing gap” in the type of ICT available in classrooms between schools who can find the money to fund contemporary offerings and those that can’t, the audit office said.

NSW is also one of the few states and territories to not provide teachers devices they can use outside of the classroom. Supplying teachers with computers became a school-level decision once the federal digital education revolution program stopped doing so in 2013.

“Each school must trade-off between allocating devices for students and teachers,” the audit report found.

“Most other states and territories provide all teachers with a laptop for use in and outside of the classroom or offer subsidised access to one.”

Additionally, NSW teachers don’t receive much training on how to use ICT tools in the classroom, and the limited training that is provided is only run out of Sydney, limiting accessibility for rural and regional teachers.

Schools told the audit office the costs were too high to provide such courses for teachers themselves.

The Education department also has no visibility over the use of ICT in classrooms – like how many schools have a BYOD scheme for students – which has an impact on the network and support the department needs to provide, the auditor said.

It also doesn’t monitor students’ ICT capability. The audit office pointed to a 2014 ACARA national assessment program that found ICT literacy of surveyed year 6 and year 10 NSW students fell – and by greater numbers than other states and territories – between 2011 and 2014.

The audit office wants the NSW Education department to review its technology funding model with consideration to “modern school requirements” by July next year.

It recommended a program be introduced to improve wireless networks across all NSW schools, and a school ICT maturity assessment be implemented to identify schools in need of the greatest assistance.

More monitoring of access to and use of ICT by teachers and students, as well as student ICT skill levels and improved opportunities for teacher ICT development, is also needed, the audit office said.

The NSW Education department told the office it accepted the recommendations.

The agency manages around 770,000 students across 2200 public schools.


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