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Labor's Digital Education Revolution: What Does it Mean for Industry?

by Kevin Noonan •
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One of the early deliverables for Labor's Education Revolution is the provision of computers to high school students. While there is no doubting its commitment, there are some questions about how the new government will implement this policy in the proposed time frames. It’s not just about buying computers; this is a massive logistical exercise.

Under its Digital Education Revolution policy, Labor promised to provide Australian children with a “digital education”, including access to modern hardware, high speed broadband connections and trained teachers to integrate new technology into classroom lessons.

Labor announced that it would invest $1billion over four years to provide capital grants to Government, Catholic and Independent Secondary Schools to enable them to provide ICT for every secondary student in years 9 to 12 - approximately 1 million children across Australia.

Schools will be able to apply for capital grants of up to $1m for laptops, desktops and network infrastructure. Labor promises to provide broadband access with speeds up to 100 mbps.

Up to $100m is to be spent in the current financial year (2007-08), with $400m earmarked for 2008-09, $300m in 2009/10 and the remaining $200m in 2010/2011.

While many in the ICT industry will be excited about the prospect of such a windfall, a number of questions remain about how the policy will be implemented.

1. Procurement

With $100m to be spent in the remainder of this financial year, procurement will need to commence very quickly. The government’s policy document indicates that “Government, Catholic and Independent school systems will tender for computers and installation of information technology on behalf of individual schools to maximise value for money”. However, if these tenders are released simultaneously, smaller school systems could miss out on the best deals. Vendors will be faced with the prospect of responding to a number of tenders early in 2008. An alternative could be for either the federal or state governments to tender for a broad panel contract. This could provide flexibility for each school system, but it would lock in the best possible prices under a simple common process.

There is not information about how this will impact existing education supply contracts in place in most states and territories.

2. Installation, Maintenance and Support

The task of installing this vast number of computers is daunting, especially when issues such as power supply, availability of installation resources and appropriate furniture are taken into account. This is an issue particularly in rural and remote areas.

3. Standard Operating Environment

These days, organisations standardise their IT configuration around a Standard Operating Environment (SOE) to minimise installation costs and enable simplified ongoing maintenance. Clearly, individual schools would want to have the flexibility to meet their own particular needs. However, there are likely to be many requirements that would be standard to a “typical” high school computer. This could include basic infrastructure such as security but may also include particular learning tools and specialist search engines. Inclusion of a basic high school SOE at initial purchase could significantly reduce overall costs and facilitate some early value-added services.

4. Curriculum and Teaching Resources

The Labor Government has undertaken to work with the states and teaching educators to ensure new and continuing teachers have access to training that enables them to use technologies, “to enrich children’s educational experience”. This will be a quickly emerging issue as computers begin to be delivered into schools.

The policy includes some information about online curriculum, and mentions work being done by The Le@rning Federation. However, there would seem to be a huge requirement for material to provide a comprehensive online education for all children.

There is also a commitment to develop web portals that would enable parents to “participate in their children’s education”.

A detailed assessment of the election outcomes will be provided at Intermedium’s Post Election Briefing in Canberra on 5 December.

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