School ICT not cutting it; upgrades needed

By July, 2017ICT, State
ICT at school should get a makeover in New South Wales, according to a new report from the state Auditor-General's office.

Image: Andy Simonds

Ageing ICT equipment and inadequate wireless networks in classrooms across New South Wales are hindering effective teaching and learning.

That’s the conclusion based on a new report released by the NSW Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford titled Information and Communication Technologies in schools for teaching and Learning, which puts a spotlight on the state’s use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning in state schools.

Despite the steady increase in school-aged participants and the government’s strong emphasis on ICT in learning, the report found that the Department of Education’s main program for providing technology in schools hasn’t kept pace with growth.

Ms Crawford said in the report that there is a risk that the Department’s strategic goals for 21st century classrooms will not be met based on current settings.

Problems uncovered by the report include ageing ICT equipment and inadequate wireless networks; variable student access to devices at school; variable teacher access to centrally provided devices for use outside of the classroom.

ICT historians would be amused to note Ms Crawford’s observation that the NSW education system still harbours some artefacts from the Kevin Rudd era, where many secondary schools were provided with laptops and wireless networks as part of the Commonwealth’s Digital Education Revolution Program.

These items were a bold handout at the time when schools were struggling with limited capacity computer labs, but this equipment is nearing a decade in age, and is “now beyond end of useful life”.

“These devices are less reliable and limit the types of activities that can be conducted to support teaching and learning,” Ms Crawford said, which makes sense given the advancements made in ICT since the late 2000s, particularly in online video.

The report suggested that improving access to devices for all teachers would support them to use ICT for enhanced teaching, learning and assessment, as the NSW Department of Education doesn’t centrally provide devices for teachers for use outside the classroom (unlike most states and territories).

Also, the report found that the Department could improve teacher professional learning in ICT and monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of this professional learning.

Additionally, the Department does not systematically or regularly monitor the digital literacy of students, or support teachers to develop these skills in students.

“Digital literacy has been identified as a key skill needed in the future jobs market,” the report said, which has become a significant talking point regarding calls for greater emphasis on STEM subjects in schools because of the rising demand for skills in these areas in the workforce.

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