Seat of learning … Chatswood High School students with their laptops, from left, Samantha Shih, Daniel Andreano and Rachel Pahlman.Rudd giveaway gripes: students slam ‘slow’ laptops
THE federal government’s scheme providing high school students with laptop computers is on the brink of collapse, leaving parents with hefty bills and educators with a chaotic start to the school year.
Funding for the program runs out in June, after the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, made a promise in 2007 – renewed in 2010 – to give all high school students a laptop.
Educators say that, without federal funding, ageing laptops cannot be replaced or maintained.
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State and territory governments have flagged the need for extra funding to replace hundreds of thousands of outdated computers that are virtually useless in classrooms.
Schools are informing parents they must lease approved laptops for pupils this year, at a cost of hundreds of dollars. Some are telling students to bring their own computers, raising problems of internet capacity, security and provision of software, as well as putting pressure on low-income families.
Principals told Fairfax Media that laptops were essential for all students and they were being forced to shift the cost on to parents.
Chatswood High School principal Sue Low said her school was providing laptops to students in year 9 but the uncertainty over future plans was unsettling.
“Laptops are now just as much of the culture of education as are pens and paper,” she said. “To not have certainty over how we will administer laptops to our students is very disruptive, and we need that certainty as soon as possible.”
Observers say almost a quarter of the laptops will have to be replaced this year or next.
The federal government allocated the states and territories $200 million in 2012-13 to maintain and replace computers up until July.
The NSW government says it urgently needs a funding guarantee to begin replacing its 253,000 computers, and needs $100 million to maintain the 1:1 computer-to-student ratio into 2013-14.
”Should funding not be received beyond 2012-13, the 1:1 ratio will become unsustainable,” a NSW education spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for federal Education Minister Peter Garrett would not make any commitment on future funding, but said the five-year program was ”delivered on time and within budget”, with 957,805 computers bought nationally at a cost of $2.4 billion. The program provided schools with up to $1500 per computer for maintenance.
Some schools have come up with their own solution to the problem. One NSW school has made arrangements with a private provider under which parents can buy a laptop for $1341 or rent-to-buy for $90 with monthly payments of about $50.
Parents and Citizens Association of NSW spokeswoman Rachael Sowden called on the government to extend the funding for the laptops program, as many parents could not afford computers for their children.
“While we understand the five-year program has been rolled out and technology requirements have changed, we urge that money still be made available to schools so children don’t get left behind,” she said. “We would hate to see the government put so much money into infrastructure and hardware, and then walk away from the program entirely.”
Joseph Sweeney, author of a report titled Bring Your Own Device In Education that assesses the digital divide between students with new and older technology, says Labor’s digital revolution was meant to close the equity gap, but the policy was close to failure because of the ”uncertainty and unsustainability” of funding for one-to-one student laptop programs.
”A big reason for that [the National Secondary School Computer Fund] coming into existence was to close the digital divide, the equity gap that existed within education,” he said.
”It’s fine if your family can afford a computer. But if those funds are not there for you in the family, you’re not going to have a computer in school.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.