The June end of the Federally-funded national Digital Education Revolution program (the DER Program) has left State Education Departments contemplating how to fill the void left by its loss, with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) measures emerging as a possible long term solution to the Federal funding cutbacks.
A more extensive version of this article first appeared as Intermedium’s In Focus # 8 on 21 July 2014.
The task is made all the more difficult by the fact that in the 2014-15 State budgets (Tasmania is not due till September), not one State earmarked funding for measures to replace the DER Program funding.
Over its five years, the schools laptops program has irrevocably reshaped the nature of classroom learning across Australia, marking the need for new approaches to the provision of technology in schools.
In the wake of the cessation of the DER Program funding, Education Departments across Australia have been left with the task of determining the most appropriate path for integrating technology into the classroom.
Among the options being considered is BYOD, allowing schools to rely on students’ existing devices in combination with cloud-hosted services offering online file sharing and document creation.
However, according to a NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) report, while BYOD is a suitable solution in the fiscally austere funding environment, reliance upon it may entrench inequity between households with varying abilities to invest in devices.
With NSW the first state to adopt BYOD as a policy for public high school students in years 8 and 9, individual schools across Australia have begun implementing the policy, reflecting a possible trend towards the increased prevalence of student-owned devices in the classroom.
With an estimated 187,500 children entering year 9 each year, and on the assumption that the devices these children acquire in year 9 will last them to year 12, Intermedium estimates the possible costs across each cohort to fall between a minimum of $121.55 million per annum (if all devices were $650 each) and a maximum of $187.5 million per annum (if all were $1000 each). Based on information provided to Intermediumby State Departments of Education across the country, this spend will occur in the retail market.
The costs of maintaining the wireless networks and other technology to support the use of the devices in schools represents another major set of costs for Departments of Education across the country.
The $2.4 billion DER Program was introduced by the Rudd Government in 2007 with the intention of driving a 1:1 computer to student ratio for students from years 9 to 12, to “prepare students for further education, training and to live and work in a digital world” according to the original agreement.
At the heart of the policy was the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund (NSSCF) with a $1.4 billion budget for secondary schools, plus a further $807 million earmarked for the costs of implementing and maintaining the computers.
The rollout of 967,000 laptops at over 2,900 secondary schools across Australia has surpassed the original target of 786,000 laptops, but seen costs double to $2.1 billion, with the Federal Government announcing the termination of the program in May 2013. The last pot of DER-related funds dried up in December 2013 for most states, with NSW able to stretch its funds through to June 2014.
Despite the Rudd government initially saying the DER program would not be a “one-off”, the former Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) was required to explain that “the DER was only ever intended to be a one-off, short term program to help bring Australian schools up to standard in terms of ICT resources. We have achieved this, and in many cases, exceeded our targets.”
The 2014-15 Budget delivered a further blow to States’ education resources, with the Government cutting $30 billion out of school funding over the next 10 years by increasing spending at a lower rate.
The situation across the country
New South Wales
The NSW DEC is one of Australia’s biggest IT users, with an ICT division that is among the largest in the country. The Department has over 96,000 employees, 1.2 million students, and more than 350,000 technological devices used to assist learning.
A DEC Spokesperson told Intermediumthat, in the wake of the DER Program, the Department “has implemented a BYOD policy that gives school principals the option, in consultation with their school communities, to enable students to bring their own personal mobile devices to school.
“Schools that choose to introduce the BYOD policy will have a range of options open to them to ensure students are not disadvantaged. They may use discretionary funds to purchase additional devices or repurpose existing equipment to create a pool of spares for student use,” the spokesperson said.
John Leaf, Deputy Director General of Finance and Administration at the WA Department of Education told Intermedium that, “as there is no ongoing Commonwealth funding for the DER program, schools will be expected to maintain a ratio of computers to all secondary students of at least 1 to 5 to ensure that every student has regular access to this technology.”
However, the Department has not mandated a BYOD model, in line with other states around Australia.
“Individual schools can adopt a BYOD model. This adoption is a school decision and the timeframe is for an individual school to determine,” Mr Leaf said. “A decision may be made by individual schools to increase the 1:5 centrally funded ratio according to their priorities. If a BYOD model is adopted, it should be in consultation with parents and the school community.”
In Queensland the Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE) took a similar approach to NSW in mandating centralised procurement of the laptops for the duration of the DER Program. However, the Department allowed schools to choose from a panel of suppliers who were able to meet the specifications of the DER Program agreement. Among these suppliers were Apple (including iPads), Lenovo, Dell, Acer, Toshiba, CDM and HP.
A Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE) spokesperson said that while many Queensland state schools have explored the option of implementing a BYOD program in order to maintain a 1:1 computer-student ratio following the conclusion of the DER Program, the implementation and funding of a BYOD program is an individual school decision.
With the end of Federal funding, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) has made available the option of BYOD policies at schools to account for the shortfall in the 1:1 laptops to students ratio.
According to DEECD spokesperson, Simon Craig, “BYOD is already a feature in a number of Victorian government schools. The Department has developed and provided BYOD guidelines to schools on the various implementation models.”
According to the Acting Deputy Chief Executive (Organisational Services) of the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training, Gregory Moo, all students have access to digital resources and learning systems through the NT schools wireless network using school or personally owned computers, tablets or smart phones.
“Students are able to bring their own devices in a number of schools and they can connect wirelessly to the school network and the Internet. The department expects to see a greater number of schools in the middle to senior years embracing the BYOD concept as it gives students and parents greater choice over the type of device they can use in the classroom without requiring a specific brand or model of computer,” Mr Moo told Intermedium.
Australian Capital Territory
An ACT Education and Training Directorate spokesperson told Intermedium that “schools and their local communities determine the adoption and approach to BYOD for their school”, adding that the Directorate is “in the process of developing an overarching policy framework for schools to support the development of their local policies and procedures”.
In the 2014-15 ACT Budget, the Government provided $9.2 million for ongoing maintenance and support of ICT in schools through the Sustaining Smart Schools program. This includes the provision to fund the expansion of wireless access points in ACT public schools and accommodate the increased demand for more tablet and mobile devices.
Similarly to every other state, in the absence of DER funding, funding for computers in schools is determined locally by individual schools in South Australia.
According to a spokesperson for the Department for Education and Child Development, both the deployment of computers to students and the decision to implement a BYOD program are “local decisions made by the school in consultation with their school community through the Governing Council”.
Deputy Secretary (Corporate Services) of the Tasmanian Department of Education, Andrew Finch, told Intermedium that in most schools, department-purchased end devices are not allocated directly to individual students, as the manner of student access to technology is a local school decision.
“Some schools provide access to desktop computers in classrooms, some via laptop or tablet trolleys, and some utilise Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) which complements Department-owned equipment as required,” Mr Finch said.
“The Tasmanian Department of Education is currently developing BYOT procedures to assist schools wishing to implement such a program. These procedures are expected to be released later this year.”
For more detailed analysis of State responses to the end of the DER Program, see the full version of this article appearing as In Focus # 8 published on 21 July 2014.