In January 2008, Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd announced the Federal Government's Digital Education Revolution
- a $900m 4 year program which aims to achieve 1:2 (computer to student) ratio in all Australian secondary schools. Grants up to $1m are available to schools for computer hardware whereby the Federal Government enters into a funding agreement with respective Block Grant Authorities. The $900m figure was calculated on 900,000 students nationally in y9-12 at $1000 per unit for 'effective ICT deployment' to improve the above mentioned ratio.
First Round funding
The program is based on a Deficit Model, that is to say, schools with less technology resources will receive more funding, upon application. In the recent technology audit of 2967 Australian schools (y9-12); only 147 schools had a ratio of 1:2 or better. Schools with 1:8 computer to student ratio or worse were targeted during the First Round of funding, in fact, 947 schools were encouraged to apply for funding - there was a 90% response rate.
Second Round funding
We recently attended the Round Table Forum for the Future Rounds of the National Secondary School Computer Fund . The discussion was chaired by Shelagh Whittleson, Branch Manager for the NSSCF. The 2nd round of applications commence early July 2008. Applications are open to all schools and opportunities for bulk purchasing to improve cost per unit eg. at a systemic level are encouraged. Special needs funding for adaptive technologies is also available.
As per the first round, funding is calculated based on the 2007 audit data indicating y9-12 access to computers less than 4 years old. Priority will be given to schools with ratio 1:8 or worse who didn't apply first round and schools 1:3 to 1:7.
The $1000 per unit funding to schools must constitute effective deployment of ICT hardware eg. PCs, laptops, thin clients, etc. There is scope for creative use of funds by schools via bulk deals, for example, if a school receives funding that will be calculated at $1000 per unit, then purchases sub-notebooks at $500 per unit, this creates a residual of $500 per unit for staff training, infrastructure and support.
Other projects include a $100 million to the Fibre Connections to Schools (FCS) initiative. The FCS will contribute to the provision of fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband connections to Australian schools to deliver speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. There has also been speculation about a National Help Desk.
Access to reliable, affordable, high speed broadband connections will strengthen the capacity of students, parents, teachers and the wider community to communicate, collaborate and access resources across system, State/Territory and national boundaries.
The Federal Government has just announced its Budget for 2008-09 . This includes:
* Additional $200 million in 2011-12 for the Digital Education Revolution, taking the total investment to $1.2 billion over 5 years.
* Funding of $32.6 million over 2 years for online curriculum tools and resources.
* Funding of $10 million over 3 years to establish support mechanisms to provide vital assistance for schools in the deployment of ICT.
The Federal Government's education initiative is ambitious and generous. However, funding to improve ICT hardware provisions in Australian schools does raise concerns about subsequent demands placed on infrastructure, technical support and staff training. There is the question mark over funding longevity - because hardware technology, software and skills date so rapidly. Moreover, Education has traditionally been a State Government responsibility. Time will tell if the current Government is genuinely committed to a Digital Education Revolution.
More information is available at http://www.digitaleducationrevolution.gov.au