Laptop numbers in Victorian schools to go backwards, says Auditor General

The Victorian Auditor General anticipates that in just a few years time Victorian high school students will find themselves worse off in terms of computer access due to the absence of any plans to address the looming obsolescence of more than 100,000 student laptops.

Under the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund (NSSCF) the Commonwealth has funded the delivery of laptops into schools across Australia, aiming to have provided one device for each student in years 9 to 12 by 31 December 2011. So far, 83,155 of these computers have been delivered into Victorian schools, with another 34,000 still to come.

However an audit into the management of ICT asset lifecycles, released today, has found that once these devices age beyond their usable life there is no to strategy to replace them, which places student learning outcomes at risk.

“The replacement or refresh of devices funded from the NSSCF program has not been assessed, unlike other ICT assets and systems. This means that a funding stream after the NSSCF program ceases has not been proposed or secured, and the risk of these assets becoming obsolete is very likely to occur,” found the audit.

Based on a four-year lifecycle, more than 115,000 of these student computers are due to become obsolete between 2013 and 2016, comprising:

  • 9,000 in 2013
  • 23,000 in 2014
  • 40,000 in 2015

The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s (DEECD) own estimates anticipate that to maintain student devices at current levels 32,000 laptops will have to be replaced each year.

Over the past four years, the Department has funded just 8,750 new devices each year through an annual grant of $7 million. Based on the DEECD estimates, the Victorian Government would need to find an extra $19 million for schools in order to meet the shortfall identified in the Audit, and to keep high school computer numbers from going backwards.

“The Department acknowledges that should the Federal Government terminate the NSSCF, it does not have the resources to continue the program,” conceded Secretary of the DEECD Richard Bolt in a response to the Audit’s findings.

NSSCF program funding is due to wind up at the end of the 2012-13 financial year.

The Auditor General has recommended that the DEECD urgently advise the Victorian Government of the computer shortfall it faces, raising the possibility that new capital funding could be extended to Victorian schools in 2013-14 Budget.

However Victoria, like the other Australian states and territories, is currently focussed on tightening budget expenditure in the face of declining revenues, which may dampen the prospects of a high value capital outlay, and especially one to continue a Commonwealth agenda.

“Due to external economic shocks, Victoria’s revenue forecasts over the next four years will be $8.3 billion lower than was forecast in late 2010,” said Premier Ted Baillieu upon the release of the 2012-13 Budget Papers.

The report paints a dire picture of ICT management in other areas as well, which it says “reflects a disconnect between DEECD’s objectives and educational reality in government secondary schools”.

A 2010-11 examination of the health of ICT infrastructure in 1,560 Victorian schools found that 54 per cent had devices that had surpassed their four-year usable lifetime, and that 85 per cent had an ICT infrastructure that was aged and/or unstable.

The Audit also found that only 28 per cent of schools had a completed and current ICT roadmaps as required by the DEECD.

Intermedium’sBudget IT Online identifies just $67.4 million worth of ICT capital allocations for the DEECD in the 2012-13 Victorian Budget, to be expended over several years. Nearly all of this will be directed towards a state-wide TAFE Student Management System.

 

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