A Victorian Auditor-General's report has warned that laptops in Victorian schools are at risk of failure, due to a lack of a proper refresh program to replace obsolete IT.
The report (PDF) which was released today, said that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) had, as part of the joint State and Federal Government National Secondary School Computer fund (NSSCF), delivered 83,000 laptops to students across the state by the end of 2011, with another 34,000 that was set to be delivered by January 2012. The report stated that the department had failed to establish an asset management framework that would take into account the lifecycles of these laptops and other ICT in use by staff and students, which would begin to become obsolete by 2013.
"Despite the NSSCF program facing mass obsolescence for more than 115,000 computers from 2013 onwards, the audited schools report that DEECD has not informed them of this looming challenge or the unfunded liability for this program," the report stated. "This is unacceptable, as DEECD's risk register identifies schools as the owners of this portfolio level risk."
Maintaining the "one laptop to one student" ratio costs the federal government $200 million a year, while 30 per cent of the total cost is carried by the states. There is only 12 months left on that agreement, however, with negotiations underway to find a way forward.
The report stated that alternate funding sources outside of the NSSCF had yet to be identified, to ensure that the IT will be replaced as it reaches its used by date.
"After more than two years of Commonwealth funding for the National Secondary School Computer Fund initiative, DEECD and the audited schools have not identified alternate funding sources or developed comprehensive action plans to manage the inevitable obsolescence of these ICT assets," the report stated. "This means that future cohorts of secondary students could miss out on access to computers, which jeopardises DEECD's strategic direction to embed ICT in the school curriculum."
A 2010 internal review by DEECD found that 85 per cent of schools had obsolete ICT infrastructure. Although DEECD had initiated corrective actions after that review, the Auditor-General found that two years later, none of the audited schools could show that the recommendations of the review had been addressed.
In addition to this, the report found that only $7 million worth of the ICT funding was dished out to schools by the department each year, over the past four years, leaving much of the gap in funding for ICT to be filled by the schools themselves.
"Over the past four years, DEECD has been funding approximately 8750 new devices through an annual $7 million ICT grant to schools. This leaves a funding liability for the majority (73 per cent) of school computers."
The Auditor-General has recommended that DEECD should develop an ICT asset management framework, and also give advice to government on what IT from the NSSCF will soon become obsolete. These recommendations were accepted by the department.
The report also examined the Mobile Data Network emergency wireless communications network, used by Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria, but unlike DEECD, it found that the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority had effectively managed the risk of obsolescence for its network infrastructure.