Australia’s Digital Education Revolution? 1 June, 2008Posted by paralleldivergence in Brad & Phil, children, education, ICT in Education, Internet, Life, My Thoughts.
Tags: Australia, Digital Education Revolution, ICT in Education
NOT LONG after Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party was whisked into power in Australia after 12 years of conservative government, there were immediate and obvious differences that appeared. Rudd took no traditional “honeymoon” period, instead preferring to get straight to work on delivering his pre-election promises. One of these being the $1.2 billion “Digital Education Revolution“.
During the election campaign, Mr Rudd was seen holding up a notebook PC, calling it “the Toolbox of the 21st Century“, then announcing that if elected, he would provide every Year 9 to 12 student in the country a computer. Now with victory secured, work has actually started with the first round of funding to be delivered in July to allow for these computers to be ordered - catching most education authorities and independent schools by surprise. With the equivalent of $1,000 provided per computer, per student, this represents a massive increase in ICT funding in school education.
As soon as the announcement was made, schools and each State started to think of the ACTUAL costs of providing a computer to each of these students. Aging power supplies in schools, inadequate networks, furniture, accommodation, storage, security - the list goes on and on – each item with its own price tag. Increasingly, schools started to realise that desktop PCs were out of the question, and even full-size laptops were disregarded due to the impending damage to our children’s spines. So it appears that a form of sub-notebook – possibly specially designed for Australian school needs will be required. Thanks to the global influence of the “$100 OLPC Laptop“, several companies including Asus, HP, Dell and Intel have produced sub-notebooks, all less than US$500 and all in the running for a slice of Australia’s Digital Education Revolution. The change leftover can then be used to buy all the sundry essentials that will be needed to make these notebooks work in a school setting.
But in a country with six State and two Territory governments that each look after school education in their own way, plus the various religious and independent school systems, there is little hope that Mr Rudd’s plan can produce the desired SINGLE revolution. There is every chance that there will be EIGHT different solutions adopted across the country with the funding distributed to the states.
It’s obvious that Australia’s Digital Education Revolution(s) has massive potential for changing the face of education as we’ve known it for the past 50 or so years. But it also has the potential to be the biggest, most-expensive flop ever undertaken by any education system in the world. Providing every student in years 9-12 their own notebook PC with wireless (filtered) Internet access at school alone represents a huge shift in direction for public education in particular. Picture this:
Twenty-five Year 10 students arrive Period 1 to their Maths lesson on Monday morning. They each take out their nice, shiny new, fully-charged notebook and open it up. Student expectations are high. The teacher stands there holding his piece of chalk…
The problem is not sourcing or delivering the Notebooks. The problem is not the required wireless access, nor the Internet bandwidth, nor the battery life, nor the software and not even the warranty or on-site support nor the ongoing reimaging needs. All of these minor concerns can be overcome. From a pure ICT perspective, the job is not difficult – it just needs money, and it seems there’s plenty of that.
The real problems are not technical problems at all – they are all social problems.
Teachers are conditioned (and expected) to deliver the syllabus. A syllabus designed to fit into a rigid structure with an inflexible examination process that is the key measurement benchmark. We teach facts and we expect our students to regurgitate facts under exam conditions – and that hasn’t changed since… well… ever. On the other hand, ICTs extend horizons. They introduce new concepts. They promote critical and free thinking. They extend students by expanding opportunities for creative output, shared learning experiences, outside and global communication. Human Interactivity through technology.
If they deliver a notebook to every year 9-12 student WITHOUT completely revamping the curriculum and syallabi, they risk ICT anarchy. To my way of thinking, you cannot allow the hardware and the technical solution to be delivered WITHOUT the education framework authorities seriously taking into account the enormous influx of ICTs that are coming soon and for them to change current educational expectations. If they try to “shoehorn” the new Notebooks solution into the existing curriculum by simply “implementing a professional development program around the use of the laptops in classrooms“, then they are NOT being serious about a “Digital Education Revolution“.
Across the world we’ve seen the impact of ICTs in school education over the past decade or so, since the introduction of Internet access and the ongoing smaller computer rollout programs. Over this time, enormous amounts of money have been spent often for little or no educational change. If we did a cost-benefit analysis of computer rollouts and scrutinized classroom internet usage over the years, we’d be hard pressed to justify this expenditure.
The real problem, as I see it, is the use of ICTs in school education has always been and still is – in 2008 - an opt-in resource. For 10 years, educational authorities have been tinkering around the edges and walking on eggshells around teachers when it comes to integrating ICTs into the education of our students. That is because the already-full and concrete curriculum tells teachers that they “could” use ICTs as an “add-on”. But the world has changed incredibly in just the last 20 years. You only need to glance at what our teenagers are doing using ICTs, independently of school, to see that many of our young produce more “work” and display more creative and critical thinking on a daily basis at home than they would in a whole day of set lessons at school. This is not just a problem in Australia - it’s worldwide.
To borrow from Mr Rudd’s campaign-speak, we are at a fork in the road. We can choose to keep pouring more ICT money into the bottomless-pit of our 1950s education systems in the hope that a few more teachers might become beacons for the masses to (optionally) follow, or we can really and seriously start to shape a new, modern, underpinning education system for the 21st century. Both of these options will appear to voters that we are doing something positive – but only one actually will be. In the term “Digital Education Revolution”, of the two adjectives, I believe “digital” should hold 10% weight, while “education” should hold 90%. To me, the Digital Education Revolution is NOT an ICT project – and whilstever educational authorities see it as one, it is destined for failure.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very optimistic and excited by the potential for this Revolution to change the face and future of a whole nation, but unless unprepared eyes from all education authorites are opened and unless the will for true education revolution is there, we’ll continue to do a lot of ICT work for little gain. Feel free to discuss in the comments.