Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, has announced that the first round of funding for Labor's digital education revolution has begun, and urged priority listed schools to apply for grants under the AU$1 billion initiative.
The schools invited to apply for the first AU$100 million of funding were selected by the department as being those most in need of computer equipment after an audit of IT in secondary schools was completed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in conjunction with the various state and territory governments late last month.
The audit was undertaken to determine which schools should be given "priority" status under the government's plan to provide computer access to every student between years 9 and 12.
Credit: Australian Labor Party
"Today, I can announce that we have invited schools to apply for the first round of funding. That is, the first hundred million dollars of that billion dollars which is about getting students access to computers," said Gillard at a press conference in Canberra yesterday.
The Deputy Prime Minister said that information gathered from the audit examining the number of computers relative to students "shows that there are 937 schools that have a ratio of one to eight or worse", affecting approximately 300,000 students between years 9 and 12 across the country.
"Schools in that position have been invited to apply today for the first round of funding. They will be able to make an application to get funding to increase the level of computers in their schools to a ratio of one to two," she said.
"We've unashamedly, in this first round, focused on those schools that are in the greatest need. We want to make a difference for them first," she added, but said the names of the schools invited to seek first round funding would not be released.
Federal Liberal education spokesperson, Victorian MP Tony Smith, has accused the Deputy Prime Minister of failing to provide further details of its funding schedule for the policy because it plans to defer some costs to the states and even some schools individually.
"Many schools are likely to be put off funding because they have no idea if they'll have to foot the bill for expensive energy bills, extra teacher training, insurance costs and even extra classrooms for the computers," said Smith in a statement.
Dr Bruce McCabe, managing director of research firm S2 Intelligence, said he is supportive of the digital education funding in principle, but criticised the government's plans to spend the AU$1 billion on laptops or personal hardware alone.
"Overall I applaud the money being poured in, but I am quite worried about it being frittered away on a lot of hardware that is essentially temporary ... it's good that they're not just talking laptops, if you take the money and spend it on other parts of the computing experience you get significantly more bang for your buck," he said.
"I would urge all the governments -- both federal and state -- to place most of their spending emphasis on the network infrastructure," said McCabe.
The analyst suggested that the government should spend less money on expensive hardware -- which will date relatively quickly -- and invest instead in state-of-the-art networks for schools, which he believes will benefit students for a far greater length of time and complement emerging forms of content such as the widespread proliferation of audio and video. He also said that the ongoing maintenance costs and risks associated with lost or stolen laptops made them an even less worthy investment.
"Essentially it comes down to information access, that's what the government's trying to do, not just access to a keyboard, so they should focus on how make that an ongoing investment," said McCabe.