Plug pulled on laptops

Tuesday, 12th February, 2013

Willyama High School Year 11 students, Thomas Elston and Ainsley Mercer, were some of the last to receive a laptop under a Federal Government scheme. Willyama High School Year 11 students, Thomas Elston and Ainsley Mercer, were some of the last to receive a laptop under a Federal Government scheme.

By Erica Visser

A Federal Government program which gives every high school student from Year nine and upwards a laptop is set to finish at the end of the year.

The Digital Education Revolution (DER), which was introduced by the Government in early 2009, supplied every Year nine, 10, 11 and 12 student with a laptop which could be used during class and at home.

With funding for the program ending this year, local principals are still not sure how to use this year's remaining laptops and what to do next year if the funding is not replaced.

National media has reported that students at other high schools were having to pay hundreds of dollars for laptops, or bring their own from home, raising issues about security and affordability.

President of the Barrier Teachers' Association, Maureen Clark, told the BDT that the Government had an obligation to not push the burden on to students and their parents.

"When the computer rollout to students in schools first began, teachers were concerned about the maintenance and upgrading of the machines and software," Mrs Clark said.

"Possibly, a more practical and less costly option could have been to invest more fully in school computer labs, specialist IT teachers and smart boards for every classroom, rather than individual student laptops which required charging and were sometimes broken, lost or left at home.

"It is up to the Government to maintain these computers and not offload the responsibility onto parents.

"With the recent budget cuts to NSW schools, though, it is probably a sign of more costs that parents will be expected to bear."

BH High School Principal Geoff Webb said that the program had been successful and it was "disappointing" it would finish.

"But I recognise that there is less funding from the Federal and State governments for laptops," Mr Webb said.

"We've been very appreciative of the laptops and the kids have got a great deal of use from them.

"We are handing laptops out this year but what happens next is something I'll have to talk to my colleagues about."

Willyama High School Principal Tony Hicks said that he was yet to decide whether Year nine students would be given this year's laptops to take home.

"That's something we'll have to look at this week," Mr Hicks said.

"We'll have to decide if we give it to kids to take home like previous years or if we keep them here in class pools."

The mother of two students, in years eight and 11, said that, while she thinks the program was good, she did not think its elimination would be particularly detrimental.

"They should have some sort of program like it, yes, even if it's just a subsidy," she said.

"I am at the point where I prefer them to take notes in class to go over but I would be happy to put in money for a laptop."

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education of Communities (DEC) said that it was "inappropriate" for high schools or the DEC to speculate about the future of the project as the Government had not announced what will happen next.

"It was announced and administered as a five-year program with no reference to continuation or taking over of arrangements."

The spokesman said that the DEC had heard no reports about students being expected to fund laptops.

"The DEC is not aware of any students in NSW public schools who are being asked to purchase their own devices as an alternative."