Western Australia runs out of money for school IT

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Western Australia runs out of money for school IT

More than half of state schools left waiting on critical upgrades.

Western Australia’s Department of Education has run short of funding halfway through the rollout of a critical IT upgrade across the state’s 770 public high schools and primary schools.

In 2004, the state launched a campaign to establish a common standard operating environment (SOE3) to optimise connectivity and efficiency across its education system, which it subsequently upgraded (to SOE4) with the help of Commonwealth funding from the then Labor Government’s Digital Education Revolution scheme.

The SOE4 rollout, alongside ubiquitous wireless internet in schools, was set to reduce an average three servers and two networks required by each school down to one server and one network – producing a savings dividend equivalent to about 66 percent of the former cost of running the infrastructure.

Backed by $47 million in DER funds, the SOE4 scheme began in earnest in state high schools, but Commonwealth cash flows have since dried up, leaving a large number of primary schools still struggling with the old technology.

Last week WA Education deputy director-general John Leaf admitted during a budget estimates session that “at this present point in time it is fair to say we do not have the funding source that we have identified to bring those primary schools on board”.

To date, he said, 394 schools have received the upgrade, and another 60 should be reached before the end of the year – leaving more than half of all schools in limbo, and using a ten year-old IT suite that cannot enable key capabilities like remote IT support.

“The schools that will be outstanding will largely be existing primary schools,” Leaf said. “That will be the gap we will face.”

WA Education Minister Peter Collier assured the estimates panel that “a more updated IT system is something I will continue to advocate for on behalf of the government”.

But in a statement to iTnews, Leaf confirmed there was only SOE4 funding in the education budget for newly established schools.

“There is no specific funding for the standard operating environment (SOE) rollout to existing schools. Schools may choose to fund SOE from their own resources, including the ICT grant to schools."

In 2012 the state parliament’s standing committee on health and education recommended that additional funding be extended to the program in the 2013-14 budget so all schools could enjoy the benefits of what it described as the “cornerstone of the Department of Education’s ICT strategy,” ideally by the end of 2015.

But Leaf advised iTnews it will take at least three to four years to deploy the common operating systems to all remaining schools based on current rates.

“The rollout of this technology is a complex process and requires planning and resourcing,” he said. “The Department and its contractors estimate that it could deploy to about 100 schools each year.”

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