What Happens Now Computers For Schools Is Over?

What Happens Now Computers For Schools Is Over?

The computers for schools program, which involved federal funding for the supply of laptops to high school students, is set to end in June. The program was a central piece of the former government’s “digital revolution” but is being discontinued by the current government.

School picture from Shutterstock

The end of the program is already having consequences for schools and for families. Without funding for computers, schools are being forced to find other ways to fund educational technology. Often this means shifting the cost onto families or requiring students to “bring your own device”.

The end of the program has two main implications. The first is related to the access all children have to the basic technologies needed for 21st-century learning. The second involves the pedagogy that underpins the use of these tools for learning.

Can everyone afford the best gadgets?

Inequalities may arise in schools if families are unable to get the newest and best devices due to the often high cost. The newest and best technology is often expensive and the daily journey to school and back can be devastating to some devices. Purchasing, repairing and upgrading devices can become a significant drain on the family budget.

As not every family is able to supply their children with the latest technology, there is a risk that placing the onus on families to obtain these devices for their children will lead to a “digital divide”. The children from well-off families will have access to the latest and supposed best tools for learning while everyone else will have either no access to technology or be lumped with using older and often outdated technology.

Are the gadgets doing students any good anyway?

The more critical issue is whether the newest and best devices are actually the best options for enhancing learning.

Professor John Hattie from the University of Melbourne conducted a large meta-analysis of meta-analyses, which involves looking at the results of a very large pool of studies to determine what factors have the greatest impact on student learning. His findings suggest that technology or, as he put it, computer-assisted instruction, has only a marginal effect on student learning outcomes.

The issue is really then more about whether these devices are the best option for learning at all, than whether newer is better. Families shouldn’t be put in a position where they need to fork out a lot of money they may not have for technology that has a dubious effect on enhancing their child’s learning.

Underpinning the uncertainty surrounding the role of digital technologies in schools is that our understanding of these devices and how they can be best incorporated into teaching practice is far outpaced by the evolution of the devices themselves. No sooner do we come to understand how best to use a technology in classrooms than the technology has already become obsolete.

The research being conducted into the ways in which technology can be used to enhance learning is therefore unable to keep pace with the development and use of new devices and applications. While it is perhaps cliché for a researcher to call for further research, in this case the cost to families, and the potential to create further inequalities in our education system would seem to warrant it.

As I have argued previously, throwing money at quick fixes is not the answer to improving education. This applies to technology more than anything else in the sector.

A greater emphasis needs to be placed on professional development for teachers and on educational design so that the maximum benefit of these new tools can be realised. The tools themselves are useless if the learning activities designed to utilise the tools are not up to standard.The ConversationJason Lodge is a Research Affiliate at the Science of Learning Research Centre (SLRC), Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne. The SLRC receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • As a Student who went through school when this program was still active, I can say that any claims that it had little effect I cannot understand. Maybe some schools don’t use the full potential of their devices, but in my classes, they helped so much.
    The entire class is able to just open up their computers and do research online as well as type up assignments. As matter of fact, I can’t remember a time when I did assignments any other way. I personally can not imagine going through my senior years without the assistance of the laptop I still have today and am using right now to post this comment.

    It’s a tragedy that state schools will no longer be funded for this program. I know that some private schools actually will still be continuing the program from their own funds. There really will be a divide between those equipped to work in today’s computerized environment and those who aren’t.

    • Seeing as tablets are falling in price rapidly and becoming more powerful, pretty soon we’ll see a capable multitouch tablet for $100 that can run real applications, not app store crap
      Pretty sure everyone can afford one

      Currently the closest thing is the asus vivotab, which is a few hundred, pretty affordable even for those on welfare, now if only I can put linux on it…

      That or ubuntu phone, kids already have phones, wouldn’t it be cool if you could just plug it into a monitor and use as a proper computer?

      The future is coming!

        • You said it, roberotful. I wasn’t even really poor, just on subsistence level wages working for local government in a mining town where everything was priced for cash-flush miners, and it took me a year to save up for a $180 netbook. It’s not just a matter of cutting out a couple months of lattes. There ARE no lattes to take out of your budget.

  • While I have empathy for providing computers to children who actually need it, why it needed to be done on nation-wide scale is beyond me. Many kids do not require a second ipad to hack and play games on.

  • Raspberry Pi is all they need, $40 + monitor + keyboard + mouse + usb power supply

    They can connect it to a TV or monitor
    They can run open source software which is entirely free, Debian, Firefox, LibreOffice and others can do everything provided in Windows and Mac
    They can learn about how a computer actually works
    They can tinker with hardware stuff if they’re inclined
    They can write code and run it without an expensive IDE

    And it can run basic games, which is all they need for now, if you buy a $1000 or $2000 laptop, you KNOW the little monters are just going to play dota 2 all day and not do their homework

    • Just to inform you. Most schools never bought ‘1 to 2 thousand dollar laptops’. Most schools actually bought netbooks, computers incapable of running even Halflife 2 due to having limited capabilities and severely cut down OS’s such as a basic version of Windows 7.

      • Well, funnily enough, at my school they locked all .exe files that weren’t already on the computer. But of course we all found a way around that and as it turns out, GTA and some older games actually worked quite well on the netbooks. In-school LAN parties FTW.

      • I’m saying you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a computer to do basic things like assignments. Oh, windows licences, more money wasted!

        A lot of parents fall into the trap of thinking they need the latest tech as if their 6 yr old is going to start editing HD films

    • 2k for a laptop? we bought $450 netbooks.

      your raspberry pi, how long does it take to set up from scratch?
      netbooks / laptops take us 5 minutes, unbox, insert battery, put charger away, plug into switch and image.

      how will the kids work around a desk? wires around everywhere, not very OH&S.

      • raspbian takes about 5min to set up?

        I count 5 cables connected to my raspi, about the same as any PC, never tripped on cables cause my parents taught me not to be a bloody moron 😛
        Sure it’s not as portable as a laptop, but you can get a heck more done with one, and they’re far cheaper

  • If you have a “dock” [monitor, keyboard, mouse, ethernet, power supply] then the actual “computer” can be much smaller – and cheaper.
    A Raspberry Pi / SSD hybrid, with a docking station interface, should be cheaper than a full-blown laptop, and more portable. You couldn’t use it in a library or sitting under a tree – but for home use, all you need is another docking station.

    It’s all about getting the most bang for your buck.

    • Dock + Pi + Monitor + Keyboard + SSD + Mouse = Impractical.

      Netbook = practical.

      What WAS practical, was buying cheap netbooks for the schools. Schools would buy these in bulk from Toshiba, Acer etc and get large discounts, often getting them as cheap as 220 – 250 per unit instead of the rrp of around 300 – 350. Though people want to tout the Raspberry Pi as the be all and end all, the Pi will not run things such as MS Office, which is necessary in a school environment, will not run such programs as Autodesk and other CAD programs, which is also used in schools and is not exactly what I would term a user friendly application. When buying something for a school, you need something that is able to be quickly set up, very quickly imaged, zero dicking around and able to be used by the lowest common denominator. That’s a laptop/netbook. The less ‘parts’ the better. I know this because I spent a long time working in a school IT department. The more ‘parts’ a student has to mess around with, the more parts will be broken.

      People seem to immediately jump on this idea that the govt spends thousand on laptops for each kid in schools? Maybe PRIVATE schools spend this money, infact the one I was at they did, but the PARENTS spent that money for the kids Toshiba Tablet/Laptop hybrids, but in public schools, the government is trying to spend as little as it can, hence going Netbook instead of laptop. Hell, the kids netbooks dont even have OPTICAL drives!

      • Pi can run LibreOffice which works just like MS Office, and is completely free, if they know how to use LibreOffice, they can use MS Office.
        There’s FreeCAD, Blender for design, not to mention AutoCAD and others would run terribly on most laptops and netbooks under $1000

        When they’re serious about learning all the inns and outs of proprietary closed software, they can shell the money out for it.
        Are we going to buy photoshop and visual studio licences for every kid as well?

        What’s cheaper? Replacing a broken mouse or replacing a laptop with a busted touchpad?
        And who still uses optical drives? lol

    • I think there’s LCDtouchscreen/battery/wifi shields for raspis now to make them completely portable
      If not, there’s a free business idea for someone to bring to market

      Raspis are bloody awesome
      One of the most educational thing you can get for your kids

      • Well, I prefer the Beaglebone Black myself… but it’s [surprise!] more expensive.
        LCD capes, for instance – Arduino LCD shields via ebay cost less than BBB LCD capes even though the BBB has an LCD controller built in. With cost in mind, I always recommend “tinkerers” start with Arduino, then “graduate” to Pi or BBB.

        Sadly, you need a PC to program /control an Arduino. Which gets us back to the laptop / notebook again. If you’re starting out, the built in keyboard and screen are just too convenient to pass up.

        • arduinos have a role to play in teaching electronics, programming, controlling hardware and robotics, but they’re not suited for kids unless they’re already computer literate or they understand how circuits work, arduinos aren’t suitable for general schoolwork or teaching computer literacy since it can’t function as a general purpose computer

          Raspis can actually function as a functional computer for even the poorest of families, using the TV they already have through composite video, a $20 usb keyboard and mouse. $5 sd card and they’ve got a computer ready to use at home! A computer stronger than my first few computers!

          I haven’t played around with beaglebones yet, but I know they’re cool!

  • I remember my sister getting a lot of use out of her laptop when she was in High School, so based on that I’m going to say that it’s a shame they’re not going to continue offering them.

  • I say this coming from a teaching household – the laptops were just a massive form of government waste

    Sure, computers are helpful for internet research and some tasks, but there’s very little to be gained in having every student open up their computer for a lesson – imagine the practicality (let alone the cost) of several thousand laptops issued in a school:

    – The kids regularly broke them, or lost them, and they were expected to last 4 years
    – Of course somebody in every class would forget theirs if you did want to use them
    – Every school got 1 TSO to maintain and fix all of them (not sure if that came out of our budget or federal) and we seemed to get a new one every six months who would sit on a pile of broken comps and then leave

    In my experience if there’s something useful online the teacher should be able to access it and put it on the projector or smartboard, it does away with the need for the embarrassing use of VHS tapes and costly buying (or copying) expensive text books, without requiring the maintenance of thousands of individual laptops

    In fact, it’s those pieces of equipment that would have been more beneficial (and cost-effective) than the gimmick of giving a sub-par laptop to every kid.

    Likewise from a funding point of view, the federal government were never going to keep funding this long term, schools are not their responsibility and if they had wanted to give us some cash it would have been better invested in larger IT equipment for general use that would have had a useful life of a few years and then at least when they broke they broke.

    Now we have a situation where random amounts of kids still have laptops, and a lot don’t, so they’re basically useless. We now have an online rewards scheme – the kids access the online school system from home or the library to claim them

    True, there may be a digital divide between rich and poor, but the easy way around that is just having the teacher provide the tech, there’s no need for kids to even have a device, they can learn from worksheets just as easily as flash quizzes, and I think people would be surprised at the real digital divide – we work in a ‘deprived’ area – some families are genuinely poor (and generally they are the better kids) but a lot of the kids who live in Housing Commission rock up with the newest smartphone – very few kids do not have one

    • kids breaking them? we have them repaired same day or next day once the damage is paid for, but ultimately, if they look after them, they last, this is about responsibility, if the kids are responsible to look after their things, they don’t get damaged

      i work in a “poor” school, update of the program has been excellent, upwards of 95%

  • I’m an IT Manager at a school and our experience on can happily say that the introduction of Google ChromeBooks as the default laptop from years 3 – 9 has been a great success on many fronts.

    The price of the unit was about $320 with a 2 year warranty which the parents liked. They understood the need for a laptop but they were worried about the cost naturally enough. Especially for the families with multiple children in our school. They all looked relieved when they learned the cost.

    We did check out the low cost Windows laptops that are available but their battery life was too low. The ChromeBook we chose is rated for 6 -7 hours and in the real world does last the students all day. If we had chosen Windows laptops though, it would’ve been a nightmare for us. Deployment would have been much harder and longer and the games and other software that can be installed would have become a problem. We successfully and completely deployed 500 ChromeBooks in 1 day.

    There were some stakeholders that were worried if a ChromeBook could do everything the students needed. After demonstrating what the ChromeBook can do, they were happy. Also, we’re keeping our IT labs so that students that need to do something like video editing can go there. In practice though, they’re only used for the specialist IT classes. Many people asked what happens if there’s no Internet which is answered that most of the required functions of the laptop do work offline.

    We took the option of the management licences from Google that allow us to manage the ChromeBooks in much the same way we would with Windows laptops. That we we can define what applications can be installed so no games, not that any ChromeBook is a gaming laptop.

    As for results, it’s still too early to have definite metrics on it but we can say that the students are much more engaged in their learning environment and behavioural issues have decreased accordingly.

    We ran a voluntary BYOD scheme for the higher years and found that the overwhelming majority of the students chose laptops and not tablets. Most of those that originally came with a tablet soon changed to a laptop. When we asked the students about the decision, they told us that it was too hard to get work done on a tablet. From that we decided not to deploy iPads or any other tablet in school years higher than 2.

    The Computers for School / Digital Education Revolution programme may be ending now but it was the last Government that wound it up. We knew two years ago it was being killed. It was a populist policy made on the run by Mr Rudd which was much more expensive than he thought it would be. We were originally offered $1,000 per laptop total which was later revised to $1,000 for the laptop plus $1,500 per laptop for infrastructure. So it was 2.5 times more expensive than he planned at least.

    I don’t make any money from Google or ChromeBook sales in case you were wondering. As I said, I work as an IT Manager at a school, I’m passionate about educating kids with the best tools at the most affordable price.

    • How integrated is the use of the laptops with the actual lessons?
      What we really need is interactive lessons, games that let you try out things and teach you real stuff
      The only challenge is making lessons like these that are fun and not boring like those ‘edutainment’ word and number games from the 90s

      And heh, I’m still waiting for a tablet/laptop convertible that meets my needs
      A tablet with detachable keyboard/touchpad is ideal, and a stylus so I can actually write and draw as I would on paper

      • Have you looked at the Microsoft Surface? I have the Surface Pro 2 and compared to a tablet, it is expensive, but it does a lot more than a tablet does and way better. Sure Windows 8.1 is still a bit clunky but I can’t imagine getting anything else. The stylus is awesome and I actually bring mine to work as it does MORE than my work laptop does. I wish our IT department would see the benefits of them instead of buying more clunky, heavy as hell laptops.

  • Give them paper and a pencil or fountain pen. There is absolutely no need for children to have ‘electronic’ devices for learning. People have done very well for decades and centuries without them, we don’t need to give children another form of distraction.

    • … fountain pen? I’m really hoping that’s a marker of this being delicious satire, instead of cranky old person >.>

    • Hence the group policies to stop them from playing games and similar. They can do more in less time using a device, as well as giving a HUGE leg up for kids with learning difficulties. You’re also teaching them how to live in the real world, where they have to learn how to balance distractions and their work, they’re not just told what to do and given a pen and paper.

    • You say it as if they’ll suddenly stop playing playstation and xbox if they were given pen and paper heh

      Do you know why they play videogames?
      Paper and pens are boring! Teachers are boring! School is prison!
      Youtube is far better than many of the teachers I’ve had through school and uni

      If you really want to treat kids like prisoners, you could prevent them from installing any new software on the device, that takes care of any games

      Technology is really about how you use it
      Our kids being computer literate is a good thing
      Our kids not having to carry heavy spine bending books is a good thing
      Our kids being able to communicate with eachother more easily outside of school for groupwork is a good thing

      Teachers can explain concepts more easily using technology, check out these math concepts that would be much more difficult to explain using a blackboard and chalk

      It makes the teacher’s job easier marking tests or assignments without stacks of papers

      All good in theory, just need to design a cost effective education system that uses technology properly

    • People have done very well for decades and centuries without them,

      I guess you think that we can do without the internet too then, since humans have obviously gotten by without it for centuries. I remember having to hand-write school papers, today that would be akin to arriving to class in a horse and buggy.

      These days, many tertiary courses focus on sourcing exclusively online databases, don’t even prescribe textbooks (vs online course notes) and offer downloadable lecture recordings… And virtually all of them require online assessment submission.

      If you think the situation should be any different for primary schoolers, you’re cracked. Giving kids a pencil and paper in 2014 is as anachronistic as giving them ink pots, and a nice way to ensure our students are not competitive. We want to educate children for a world even more connected and ‘electronic’ than our own. How about we teach them to use the devices they’ll use as adults instead of telling them to get off the lawn.

  • ok, as above, i work in a “poor” school as a technician, not saying where though.

    the DER/BER/OLPC program has been great for the students that i have worked for? with? whatever… at the schools i have worked at.

    what happened in the past…
    we offered parents to pay for their computers (which we were allowed to).
    this helped with our infrastructure as well as repairs and other things.

    now that the program has ended, we have gotten a device that WE CAN MANAGE, it is still under BYOD but we can still manage them.

    the whole program has been good and bad. the old teachers, didnt like it, they dont like doing the reports on the computers, they dont like using computers, they dont like checking emails, or using electronic whiteboards, or anything like that.
    those teachers will never change to embrace technology, and that is fine, for them, but not good for the students who have to suffer (one i know of, who is an IT teacher, still uses material from excel 97 to teach the kids, this is shocking, but nothing you can do)

    the younger teachers, who use computers are amazing, the kids are doing things i would never have though of, digital portfolio’s, running radio stations, graphic design, F1 for schools, 3d design, reports, programing, designing games. when you walk into a classroom and the kids have got a 3d program designing race cars, running virtual wind tunnels (or real ones) this is great amazing.
    these good teachers are using things like blogs (however only internal), youtube and other websites, the kids are engaged, they are doing something idfferent and new. this is why the program will continue at many schools i know of, if not government contributed, then school/parent contributions for the devices.

    to the people saying use a raspberry pi / linux / whatever, how will you manage the device? how will you restrict it to only perform what you want it to perform?
    we run a heavily restrictive group policy for the students, yeah, they can get games and all, however, unfortunatly, they can’t install them… sorry… not that we care, that is all about CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT, if not playing games, the kids can sit and chat, throw planes, draw and other things, the kids will find a way not to do work, on computer or not.

    we run windows because, we can manage it, we can restrict what the kids can do, stop them going to x site, or running y program. any issues, simple we just reimage their machine, and an hour later, they are ready to go, no need to spend 3 hours removing a virus.

    we run 3 different machine types, we have an image to use with all the students need, no need to muck around setting up chromebooks (they dont like our wireless sytem anyways) no need to worry about compatibility, or drivers or anything.

  • I was part of the very first year of laptop roll outs and here were the issues that we ran into.
    1. Computers were loaded with a tonne of unnecessary applications slowing the computer to a crawl. The low specs of the computer made running any of the adobe applications a nightmare. Accidentally clicking on any of them would mean your computer was effectively useless for the remainder of the class trying to let it boot up.
    2. Slow rollout of the wifi connectivity in the classroom. I Don’t think this applies to all schools but at ours, we recieved our laptops before the wifi was fully operational around the school therefore trying to any sort of research in class wasn’t possibly for a good term of work. Anyone trying to manage all there schoolwork from the computers was just in a load of trouble because sometimes you could and sometimes you couldn’t.
    3. They took restrictions way to far in some areas. Obviously they didnt want to kids to just play games in class all day (even though thats what ended up happening). but for a student studing programming at the time, not being able to install any IDE was super annoying. not being able to uninstall all of the adobe crap was super annoying. not being able to install any of the optimization programs that would have let me use my computer as a computer was super annoying. In the end I had it jailbroken just so it wouldn’t be totally useless to me.

  • You set up all standard applications as root with a proper password, you flash this OS image to all the raspi SD cards, you setup user accounts on every raspi (use a script to save time, there’s many tutorials on this) with the right permissions so they can’t put new apps on
    Linux by nature doesn’t have many games that run on it, so that alone makes it harder for kids to play Halo on 😛

    You can block websites on linux too
    As long as the kid doesn’t have the root password, they can’t bypass it, but they will bypass it with a proxy because they’re kids

    Get the kids to save to usb drives ($5) (or upload their documents to some webserver the school runs), so if the OS gets corrupted, you just reflash the SD card, the kid’s work will be unaffected, resetup the kid’s account using a script and it’s good to go

    You could go one step further and have the teacher run a script that locks all the raspis in the classroom, when they need the full attention of the class

    Now it might need a little more work to set up all this up, but it’s not as hard as it sounds

  • Well at our school. One of the high schools in Perth, They made their own decision about what to do since they no longer had any funding. So…
    For the older students, Year 10+ (2014), they continue using their HP Elitebooks (Spinning Convertibles), if they want to they can choose to upgrade to what the Year 9’s are using, Lenovo Yoga 12.5, its actually a decent upgrade but for $500 per year + $500 to keep at the end our ‘learning journey’, it was just too expensive.Specs: i3-4010U/4GB/128GB, under the school internet everything is banned, .mp3, .exe, .zip, etc.
    Before the big decision they asked all their year 8’s whether they preferred this or an HP Revolve, seems like this one.
    A few of us decided to go BYOD, just without internet.
    2013 Retina MacBook Pro, i5-4288U/16GB RAM/256GB $1800
    Others went with MacBook Airs and ultra books, without internet, those with ultra books have better battery life and are more focused. In the future we (BYOD people) would like to fund our own mobile hotspot service within the school, if thats allowed, but thats our goal for now.
    Its just a shame so many people spent so much on those Lenovo Yogas yet they just play small flash games during class (StarWhal, Emulators, even Minecraft).

  • Apparently the school networks don’t support Mac OSX Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks? Is that right????
    They only support a highly controlled Windows 7, not Windows 8/8.1?
    Quite sad since they could have saved a whole load of money by buying low specced 2013 MacBook Airs for $999 before any discounts or bulk discounts from other distributors.
    The students were also told they were getting Windows 8.1 (Everyone in the room was like “YESSSSS”) but another whole year meeting revealed that Windows 8 was not supported by the school networks.

    • no not at all, i support all mac os’s (over 10.6)
      most of my machines run windows 7, however, 25% are running windows 8.1

      for my students that are true BYOD (currently, we have 4 different programs, BYOD, and 3 laptop models) all devices apart from chromebooks, and androids and linux are supported… even ipads, windows RT, we have a few MS surfaces.

  • I previously worked for the laptop program in NSW (yes, 100’s of people will lose their jobs when this program ends so many like I began looking elsewhere for work). During my experience, I worked at several schools and was able to see many of the successes and the failures of this program.

    Successes: Some schools embraced this technology and when used with an interactive whiteboard combined with a tech savvy teacher, it created a truly interactive classroom. Quiet students who would sit up the back and not engage in the lesson we engaging in the lesson. Disadvantaged students who did not have access to a PC or the internet at home were given access. Students with learning difficulties were given a new means to learn. This really did change some students’ lives. On the PC front, after four years they finally had a great PC in the fifth year by including SSDs and a 64bit OS.

    Failures: For every school that embraced this technology, there was at least one or more that resisted it or saw it as a passing fad ie: “When this stupid (laptop) program is over I will be able to teach my classes again.” – English Teacher. Some schools used the laptops as leverage by removing them as punishment which is completely ridiculous as you wouldn’t remove a textbook as punishment.
    This one is not entirely the program’s fault but the three hardware remediations on three different models because faulty and poor quality parts were chosen (who would have thought kids would be rough with these things?). Leading on from that, the build quality in the early models did not account for the amount of f#%ks kids do not give about school property as many sat awaiting payment for repairs that the students caused.
    The inflexibility of the SOE and forced applications, not every student needs Adobe CS5 and half the other crap that was part of the SOE. Alot more open source and free applications could have been made available ie: Use a MOE model and make the applications available to install if needed or required. The SOE was so heavily locked down that not even the onsite techs had admin access. This meant that the quickest solution to get the device up and running again in the event of a software failure was to wipe it and start from scratch.

    Lastly, while I have listed more failures than successes, the program as a whole was successful in changing the way students are taught and the way they think about computers. It has helped pave the way to bring our schools into the 21st century. Many lessons have been learnt about the use of technology in the classroom and hopefully schools will not let it be wasted.

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