NSW schools ‘struggling’ with old equipment, legacy networks and lack of funds

Static ICT budget major issue audit finds

Ageing equipment, inadequate wireless networks and poor access to devices is holding back pupils and teachers in New South Wales, according to a report from the state’s audit office.

Despite the growing use of technology in the classroom, many schools were “struggling” to meet needs with the funding available to them, the ICT in schools for teaching and learning audit found.

School ICT spend comes from the state’s Technology for Learning program. But the funding available from the program has not increased since 2004, forcing many schools to supplement technology purchases from school budgets and parents associations, the report released today by the NSW Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford, said.

“The Department needs to review whether its current technology programs provide schools with sufficient resources and support to meet the Department’s strategic goals for 21st Century classrooms,” it concluded.

The NSW Department of Education issued a response to the recommendation, saying its Information Technology Directorate would “oversee a review of the program and develop a roadmap of action”.

The lack of funding was the crux of many of the audit-office’s other recommendations.

New devices and networks needed

Computers and devices supplied to schools were found to be more than five years old on average, meaning they were “less reliable, require greater maintenance and support, and cannot run demanding applications” the report found.

School wireless networks were found to be “beyond the end of their useful life” and seriously lacking in the audit, an issue exacerbated by increased use of bring your own device (BYOD) schemes and cloud software.

Most secondary schools were found to be using the same networks installed between 2009 and 2013 as part of the Commonwealth Digital Education Revolution program.

“This equipment is now considered beyond end-of-life, though most secondary schools are still using it. This is because schools are unable to extend coverage without fully replacing the system,” the report found.

All of the schools visited by the auditor’s team were unable to fund necessary upgrades, and although the regional and rural schools will receive resources to do so in the Connecting Country Schools Program over the next four years, metropolitan schools will not.

The report recommends that the scheme is extended to cover all schools in the state.

While most other States and Territories provide all teachers with a laptop for use in and outside of the classroom. or subsidised access to one, in NSW it was a school level decision. As a result, outside of the classroom, teachers were stuck with laptops that could be up to eight years old.

The audit-office recommended the department improve teacher access to devices, which has prompted a “review of current approaches” from the department.

Literacy improvements

Although most teachers are using ICT in the classroom, the report found that many required further professional learning to develop their skills.

While the department provides some courses on using ICT in the classroom directly, they were found to be too costly for many schools and only offered in Sydney.

“Increasing the use of online learning would improve access for teachers in these areas,” the report suggested.

The digital literacy of students was noted as an unknown in the report published today, since regular assessments of their abilities were not made.

This was concerning, the report said, because since at last count the ICT literacy of a sample of Year 6 and Year 10 New South Wales students fell between 2011 and 2014. The fall was greater in New South Wales than in other States and Territories.

“Without more regular assessment or reporting, the reasons behind this fall and the distribution of student capabilities between schools will remain unknown,” the report said.

Department of Education secretary Mark Scott said the department welcomed the report “as an opportunity to review and enhance our delivery and support of ICT for learning in schools”.

All seven of the report’s recommendations were accepted, with reviews into current practices promised.

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Tags legacyICTschoolswireless networksnswDepartment of EducationNew South Walesageing infrastructure

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