WA schools struggle with old, Frankenstein computers

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WA schools struggle with old, Frankenstein computers

Auditor says the state of digital education is getting worse.

Western Australia's high schools are stockpiling old devices bought in the dying days of the federal government's computer funding program to strip them for parts in an attempt to keep their digital learning dream alive.

WA auditor general Colin Murphy has found the state of IT in many WA government schools is getting progressively worse, with no strategy in place to maintain kit bought with the Commonwealth’s national secondary schools computer fund (NSSCF) before its closure in 2012.

The NSSCF aimed to equip all Australian students in years nine to 12 with an Acer laptop. The last of these devices - purchased in a burst by WA schools before the funding dried up - are now at least four years old, and creating new challenges for teaching staff.

“During our site visits, teachers said they at times abandoned the use of devices in their classroom because the devices were slow to operate and contributed to behaviour management problems amongst students,” Murphy said in an audit report handed down today.

"To extend the life of these older devices, some schools retain broken devices for spare parts."

In 2015, 28 percent of all student devices were more than four years old, the WA Department of Education has admitted. These days, the DoE says it is happy to achieve one working computer for every five students enrolled in a secondary school.

Murphy and his team complained that the state government does not appear to have a strategy in place to stem the decline in electronic learning tools available in WA public schools, a reality that is “inconsistent with DoE’s vision of technology rich classrooms”.

The report said that relying on schools - which are rarely in a financial position to employ dedicated IT support staff - to run their own BYOD programs had also proved problematic.

At one location the audit team visited, $57,000 worth of new tablets were left sitting in storage after the high school failed to realise their operating system couldn’t be used with the WA Department of Education standard operating environment.

Meanwhile, ballooning data usage has also meant that school networks are struggling to cope with bandwidth demands - an issue that is set to come to a head when online NAPLAN testing is rolled out nationwide progressively from 2017.

The audit office said 74 percent of the schools it surveyed complained that unreliable internet affected their use of IT.

The Department of Education has promised schools $20.2 million worth of funding to fix connectivity issues by April 2017. But the auditor warned that a failure to get networks up to scratch across the state would create “inequity” for students forced to sit online assessments with less than satisfactory bandwidth.

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