Australian government quietly ends laptops in schools program

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has confirmed that year 9 to year 12 students in 2013 will be the last to receive laptops under the current scheme.

While the Federal Budget last week did not specify whether the laptop in schools program would continue, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) has today confirmed that the project will be discontinued at the end of 2013.

Then opposition leader Kevin Rudd announced the digital education revolution (DER) program before the 2007 election that would see every student from years 9 to 12 given laptops, in a program worth AU$1 billion.

He said at the time that it would not be a "one-off" and indicated that the government would fund the replacement of the systems "to keep them at the cutting edge".

Over five years on, and the government, now led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, has spent AU$2.1 billion and, despite a slow start, met its target last year, delivering 967,000 laptops across the country .

But despite the pledge from former Prime Minister Rudd to keep replacing the devices, the department confirmed the axing of the scheme for the end of 2013, when the last AU$242 million of funding to sustain the 1:1 ratio will run out.

"The DER was only ever intended to be a one-off, short-term program to help bring Australian schools up to standard in terms of ICT resources. We have achieved this, and in many cases, exceeded our targets," a department spokesperson said.

The spokesperson indicated that funding would now come through the AU$9.8 billion National Plan for School Improvement, which came out of the David Gonski review into school funding.

The department spokesperson said that the plan would empower schools to make the decisions on how to allocate funding to, among other things, IT resources.

"We know that schools are best placed to decide on the resources they really need and under the National Plan they will be given the choice on how best to allocate the extra money they receive," the spokesperson said.

"For individual schools, this means the funding will help them to equip their schools with better resources and IT equipment, like Smart boards, computers, iPads and tablets that can capitalise on the National Broadband Network (NBN)."

The plan will require all states to sign on to it, in order for it to go ahead. Gillard has been campaigning on the issue for the past few weeks, but will need to win over several Liberal premiers in order to succeed. So far only New South Wales has signed on.