The Victorian Government's acting auditor-general has called for more school funding to avoid the looming "mass obsolescence" of up to 40,000 high school student laptops by 2015.
Dr Peter Frost said nearly a quarter of the laptops delivered to students at state schools under the federal Digital Education Revolution scheme would become obsolete within three years as the state education department failed to provide the additional funding required to replace the computers before obsolescence.
The scheme saw the Australian Government sink a total $2.4 billion into achieving a computer-to-student ratio of 1:1 across those in Years 9 to 12 between 2008 and 2013, along with supplementary support and education programs.
Each state was given funding to pick devices under the program suited to government schools in its area, with Victoria urging public schools to pick a 10.1-inch or 11.6-inch netbook of up to $600 from Acer or Toshiba for their students.
A total 83,155 devices were deployed at Victorian schools by January this year, with an additional 34,000 expected to be rolled out throughout 2012.
But the state had fallen behind on meeting the 1:1 ratio by the end of last year, according to the auditor-general, "due to slow purchase action by schools and/or signing of their funding arrangement with" the department.
While Frost commended the department on its corporate and school-based ICT strategy, he said the computer scheme in Victoria was not consistent with its wider asset strategy.
The department had not appropriated the funding required to replace laptops on a regular basis and was unable to "demonstrate continuity of planning" or provide information as to how it was continuing to be proactive with the scheme, the audit found.
Some 32,000 devices each year needed to be replaced to keep up with the department's standard four-year replacement scheme. But the $7 million of funding offered annually to support the program meant only 8750 new devices could be purchased each year.
"There is little evidence of coordinated or deliberate departmental activity or planning to address this looming challenge," the acting auditor-general said in his report.
"The department has not adequately explored alternative funding options, nor assessed other possible contingency scenarios to replace the obsolete fleet."
The audit claimed obsolescence had already begun in schools, with a February audit showing more than ten percent of all school devices – largely outside of the Digital Education Revolution scheme – were more than the accepted four years old.
"After more than two years of [computer scheme] funding, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and schools have no plans to replace or refresh these assets," he auditor-general said.
"Future cohorts of secondary students could miss out on access to computers in learning environments.
"Planning tools are inadequate to address this risk, and schools are not universally or effectively applying them ... [it] highlights an emerging disconnect between DEECD's ICT-based learning objectives and the management of student-based ICT assets in government secondary schools."
Frost recommended both the education department and state Treasury reform asset management guidelines across the Victorian Government to more clearly outline ICT governance and ensure infrastructure was not allowed to become obsolete.
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