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The Digital Education Real Illusion 18 July, 2011

Posted by paralleldivergence in education, ICT in Education, Internet, Politics, technology.
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THE PROMISE. The challenge. The delivery. The difference. The Australian Digital Education Revolution was rightly heralded as a real gamechanger in school education nation-wide. When Kevin Rudd as opposition leader proclaimed, “This is the toolbox of the 21st Century” while holding up a laptop computer and  subsequently promised access to a computer for every student in years 9 through 12, we knew this was something big. This truly was an Education Revolution.

I wrote extensively about that promise, the challenge, the delivery and the difference – but now I ask, what the Hell was the point? In the May 2011 Federal budget, the Government’s idealogical and aspirational education revolution was all but given the heave-ho! It seems that the actual promise was to provide computers to all students from years 9 through 12, one year cohort per annum, until all four years had them. And then….? Nothing.

In New South Wales public schools, the state authority with the most-cohesive and effective implementation plan, the DIFFERENCE was most obvious. High school teachers were adopting and adapting the laptops into their classrooms. Their lessons were changing. They started to focus on Digital Citizenship, they were provided teaching resources specifically incorporating the laptops  and they started to document their journey in video form. They even got real, on-site technical support for the first time ever. For public schools in NSW, the Revolution was truly gathering steam. At this point, New South Wales is three-quarters of the way through. All students in the current years 9, 10 and 11 have their own laptop and although there have been problems, these have been within the allowed tolerances. At the end of 2011, the incoming year 9 students will receive their laptops, completing the Federal Government’s commitment. The announcement that no more funding is available for laptops for students beyond the 2012 cohort means that 1:1 laptops will be in high schools until next year’s year 9 students complete year 12, but in ever-decreasing numbers until they disappear totally.

And what else will disappear with them? All the great progress in teaching and learning that1:1 laptops provided. Without the laptops, without the ubiquitous connections and access, there will be little choice for teachers but to revert to the “old-ways” of “chalk-and-talk”, “drill-and-practise” and “rote learning”. Can the NSW State Government afford to take up the slack to see 1:1 laptops continue? Can they pay for the laptops and the ongoing support themselves? I truly hope they can, but I ask, why should they have to? When Kevin Rudd made that statement and that promise, surely he and his Education Minister and government knew that this had to be a commitment for the long-term. Otherwise, what was the point? Federally, with the budget announcement, it’s been more than a waste of money. It’s been one big education-tease.  That’s why regrettably, I’m now calling  it the Digital Education Real Illusion.



1. Georgie - 18 July, 2011

Wow. Stu, why don’t you say what you really think? 🙂 I agree that DER has had its issues over the years, and nobody would have expected it to be bedded down immediately. It was always going to be eased in. But to have the rug pulled out from under it now? Was there even an evaluation?

2. @pixeltoy - 18 July, 2011

Politics. Money. New direction. New distraction.
Let’s move along people…nothing to see here.

3. @pixeltoy - 18 July, 2011

Oh, the only other state that I ever heard of using the DER was Vic with its iPad foray. What did the other states end up doing? Is this the reason for the early killing off of the project?

4. Carla - 18 July, 2011

I was feeling so happy today Stu, lots of great things happened and then I read your post, an honest and forthright post that I must admit, left me feeling a little blue about facing some realities. Like many, I just don’t believe we can afford to go backwards now. Compared to many, I know my journey was relatively late in gathering momentum but that momentum is now out there, everywhere amongst our colleagues. In this respect the DER hasn’t been a tease, it has opened doors of possibility, creativity, collaboration and change. It has provided or been a catalyst for some of the best PD offered in DEC. Even if the Laptop program falls by the wayside, I cannot understand how a government could let the progress of the last few years falter without providing some alternative, whether it is changing the way our classrooms in DEC are equipped or technology is provisioned, to enable equity, opportunity, ubiquitous access. If it doesn’t, then perhaps it is time that teachers really made it loud and clear that retrogression is NOT acceptable. Perhaps it is my naivety about the world, bureaucracy and economic reality, but I will cling to the belief that we cannot, will not return to the ways of old. Besides, I’m not there yet and neither are my students..it’s been wonderful…I want to continue the journey.

5. imelda Judge - 18 July, 2011

Excellent Stu! Someone needed to say it! Don’t worry we will keep up the fight. Great teachers cannot ignore the world outside!

6. Tim Gee - 18 July, 2011

Come on Stu – we can still PRAY for more laptops right?! 😉

I thought things were still “in negotiation” post 2012?

I agree with your sentiment. It would be a sad waste to discontinue the program with no more laptops. I’ve seen too many positive things come out of the program, pedagogy-wise . . .

7. Warrick - 18 July, 2011

We still have the trucks Stu. The new program is an Xbox per classroom anyhow. Who knew??

8. Alice Leung - 18 July, 2011

Great post. What was the point of starting DER and putting wireless in schools when they just cut funding? After all the work that teachers have put in to make learning more effective with 1:1 laptops, they just go “no, you need to go back to teaching like last century now.” Not only did the laptops transform learning, but it also allows kids from disadvantaged backgrounds access to technology they need. Let’s hope that the federal govt can plan for the future of this country and if they can’t, let’s hope the NSW govt can.

9. Darcy Moore - 19 July, 2011

Feel the same way and wrote this a couple days after the budget: http://darcymoore.net/2011/05/12/future-vision/

10. Dave Plant - 19 July, 2011

Great post Stu. Would the Government see it as students who finish Year 12 to hand back their laptops at the end of year so they continue the process of the next year of students getting a laptop? It wouldn’t be a surprise especially if they stopping the funding!

11. peter jones - 19 July, 2011

well put Stu! We had been hopeful but alas the economic pragmatists seem to have won the day.

12. Tony Coleman - 19 July, 2011

I am very pessimistic about our ability to remain relevant in our Student’s life without the Laptop program.

13. Greig T - 25 July, 2011

A true reflection of a Government with no direction or commitment to policy and no commitment to any long term goals. Make it look good, propose a good idea and then let it slide away. Looks good on their CV if the prospective employer doesn’t know the real history. We however, do know the history and not one thing has been implemented without issues. I hope my damning account is wrong and that they will find the funds to continue the DER program. I also hope that they can do it without going further into debt, how about scraping one of their other Micky Mouse programs as the DER program is one that can work. I am seeing changes to teaching and learning now that their are 3 years with laptops. Teachers who were once totally against technology are now embracing it. I also believe that teachers will challenge themselves teaching with technology given the time and resources and that means continuing the DER laptop program for a further 4 years and another after that and so on. Lets hope sanity prevails.

14. davidtjones - 1 August, 2011

Thanks for pointing me to your post. Interesting to see the range of perspectives, especially those who are seeing changes in teaching practice. That was one aspect that I was a bit uncertain about. Glad it is happening. Would be interesting to quantify.

The situation is likely to be worse in some Qld schools. One I know of has yet to receive an computers. A big pile is meant to be coming before the end of the year. But the school plan is not to give the computers to students. There will be no mass laptop roll out. Instead the computers will be made available at the school for use in class. Any sense of ownership from the students will not happen.

davidtjones - 1 August, 2011

Actually, Stu, do you mind if I use your photo of Rudd and Swan in my presentation? A great image that tells the message quickly.

paralleldivergence - 1 August, 2011

Sure you can use the image David. 🙂

paralleldivergence - 1 August, 2011

One of the big concerns I had from the start was while the Feds funded the whole thing, they allowed every state and its various education authorities to develop their own strategies for spending the money. It was never going to be possible to have a single “Digital Education Revolution”, but that was what we really needed if there was ever going to be a chance of success. Instead, we ended up with multiple different “revolutions”, and when it came to evaluating the whole project, NSW public schools may have gone really well, but the fact that just about every other state botched it meant that justifying its continued funding was always going to be difficult. The links I posted under the cartoon above describe the NSW DER more fully.

15. Australian Teacher - 5 August, 2011

good post, tell it like it is. I think, for what it is worth, that the evolution has just started and it is outside of schools. On the net teachers are really communicating unlike they did say 5 years ago. I think over time like minded educators will form lose alliances outside of established educational structures, learning will occur online using a variety of devices, most likely bring your own type, and classrooms will become conversational spaces

paralleldivergence - 6 August, 2011

I agree with you Australian Teacher, teachers are finally realising the power and value of connecting with each other in order to learn more efficiently and efectively in this ever-progressing world. But the “bring-your-own” model you refer to rather than governments providing resources such as laptops or tablet will bring little more than frustration for the teacher who has to troubleshoot a myriad of devices and will simply highlight the real-world situation of the haves and the have-nots. DER promoted equity, breaking down socio-economic boundaries. But DER costs a lot of money and the government is too gutless to continue what it started. It’s a terrible shame.

16. Tahlia Newland - 6 October, 2011

So all those teachers who actually changed their teaching to use them them wasted their time. Those who didn’t bother are vindicated. But – in reality, it’s probably just as well because this is what happened in my school and it’s a good school. Half the kids never brought their computers because half the teachers didn’t use them at all, so when you did want to use them, your lesson was sabotaged from the beginning. Then there’s the difficulty getting the kids to actually do the work instead of playing games, or surfing the internet. It’s impossible to police all the time. For the top students, they were great, for the lower classes, just another distraction. They’re fabulous for casual teachers though because the kids who would normally be distruptive are happily playing games and bothering no one else.

paralleldivergence - 6 October, 2011

Thanks Tahlia. You’ve pointed out an important flipside to the “revolution”, one which was never properly addressed and which was always going to be an ongoing hindrance. It was never going to work as just a four-year exercise and everybody knew it – except the government.

17. The Failed Revolution | Parallel Divergence - 23 February, 2013

[…] inception through to one state’s innovative interpretation of it, and ultimately its relegation to national folly status.  Then I read Greg Whitby’s latest […]

18. glendageorge - 13 October, 2015

Hi Stu would you mind if I use the image in one of my blogs for a uni assignment on youth, popular culture and texts please?

paralleldivergence - 13 October, 2015

Go for it. 🙂

glendageorge - 13 October, 2015

I’ll send you a link to my blog once this current post is completed…should bring a smile I’m thinking or smirk perhaps?! & thanks, greatly appreciated.

glendageorge - 13 October, 2015

Well there you go, no point posting the link to my post then hey Stu :)?! It’s already there…how do you that?

paralleldivergence - 15 October, 2015

Magic. I’ll go have a read of your article. 🙂

19. New Media in Schools | Popularising Reading - 13 October, 2015

[…] equity policy in the last 20 years in education.” Another educator reports in his blog post The Digital Education Real Illusion (2011) that this lack of “ubiquitous connections and access” will result in teachers reverting […]

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