Aussie schools get first $116m in PC funds

The first round of digital education revolution funding — AU$116 million — is winging its way to 896 schools to buy over 100,000 computers.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

The first round of funding for Labor's so-called digital eduction revolution — AU$116 million — is winging its way to 896 schools for over 100,000 computers.

The schools included in the first digital education revolution handout — to provide computer access to every school child in years nine to 12 — were identified as having the greatest need, with ratios worse than one computer per eight children. The funding will bring the ratio up to one computer per two children.

Gillard, speaking at a doorstop interview, said having one computer per two children is not copping out on the government's promise of a computer per child, because it will allow children to access computers when they need them, making an "effective one to one" ratio.

Under the funding agreements, the states will have up to two years to buy and install the computers in the nearly 900 schools.


Applications for the next round of funding will be accepted from 14 July.

For each computer, the schools have been awarded AU$1,000. According to Gillard, the AU$1,000 will cover the purchase of hardware with any leftover funds used for related costs such as installing wireless connections.

Opposition eduction spokesperson Tony Smith said the PCs for the schools' roll-out has gone exactly the way he was worried it would, with the Deputy Prime Minister presenting computers at a school, but leaving the schools and parents to sort out extra running costs.

"Rather than smiling for another photo opportunity, Julia Gillard should be announcing who is actually going to pay to make the computers work," Smith said in a statement. The education spokesperson estimates for every AU$1 spent on the PC itself, another AU$3 must be spent on associated costs.

According to a spokesperson for Smith, there a number of challenges to the roll-out: some portable classrooms have only one power point, meaning extensive rewiring is needed before computers can be used; Northern Territory schools may need to upgrade their air conditioning to deal with cooling the equipment; while other schools do not have any physical space for the PCs.

It's difficult to say exactly how much money will be left over from the AU$1,000 when the new computer is installed, according to Gary Burgess, VP and senior analyst at research firm Ideas International.

Because of the scope of the program, deals could be struck for the schools, he said: "Discounts can be 20, 30, 40 per cent."

Software is also likely to be available at a stiffly discounted rate, he continued, or if the states were bold they could go open source. "If you went something like Linux, the costs could be significantly lower."

According to the Department of Education and Training, the states have indicated that they can negotiate prices for PCs of around AU$500, and discussions are continuing between state and federal governments on the issue of on-costs.

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