The Government’s $2.2 billion National Secondary Schools Computer Fund, which forms a part of the Government’s Digital Education Revolution program, has been mostly successful, but there was still room for improvement, a joint committee of public accounts and audit has found.
In a public hearing for the inquiry into the fund, the audit evaluated how effective it was in furthering the government’s agenda for education reform.
The audit’s evaluation of the funding initiative, which was set up to provide secondary students in years 9 to 12 with new ICT equipment and cover associated costs, found that it “had been effective” in increasing the computer-to-student ratio to one computer per student, according to Australian national audit office auditor-general, Ian McPhee.
However, McPhee highlighted that there were some areas of the program that “could have been strengthened”, with the audit recommending that future program funding agreements with non-government education authorities be strengthened, a balanced set of portfolio budget statements be established, and the effectiveness of the program be measured through key deliverables and performance indicators.
While independent MP for Lyne, Robert Oakeshott, agrees with the audit’s belief that the national program has worked in engaging students in ICT, he would like to see improvement in several areas as the initiative goes forward.
“Teacher development work is a critical next step, and getting very rigid school systems much more comfortable with the flexibility that comes with modern technology is another,” he said.
With most schools now having interactive whiteboards and connected classrooms, Oakeshott foresees the school classroom becoming a more of a community ICT hub as the National Broadband Network begins rolling out across the country.
“As others have said before, we now have an opportunity of moving a learning system largely designed for the 19th Century and improve it with learning tools and outcomes for the 21st Century,” Oakeshott said.
However, Oakeshott admits that “this is big cultural change” and that it “will take time".
The audit also found that education authorities felt that their schools had a relatively short time frame to transition to a computer-to-student ratio of one to one.
In spite of that, installation of computers purchased through the fund was found to be progressing at a good pace, and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth announced subsequent to the audit that the rollout of computers “was on track,” with 75 per cent of all computers already installed as of June 2011.