Schools in bind over laptops

AUSTRALIAN schools are faced with a controversial decision about whether to allow students to bring their own smartphones and tablets to school as the computers supplied by the federal government reach the end of their lifespan.

Every student in years 9 to 12 received a computer under the Rudd government's $2 billion ''digital education revolution''.

The computers in schools program was a key plank of Labor's 2007 election pitch, with students promised a ''21st century tool box'' by the end of last year.

However, a report to be released on Tuesday says some schools are allowing students to bring their own devices to school given the ''uncertainty and unsustainability of funding for one-to-one student laptop programs''.

The report, which was funded by Dell, said interest in the trend known as BYOD - Bring Your Own Device - had peaked sharply this year as the sustainability of the national secondary school computer fund and digital education revolution came into question.

''Educators … are concerned with schools' ability to continue providing computing devices to students should, as it seems likely, funding models for one-to-one student programs be withdrawn in 2013-2014,'' Joseph Sweeney from Intelligent Business Research Services says in the report.

''Everyone is looking for the 'one approach' that alleviates all of the headaches of providing digital education (changing policies, duty of care, maintenance etc) while consuming as little of the scarce ICT budget as possible.''

However, the report says there are contrary views about students bringing their own devices to school, based on educational philosophies as much as technical issues.

It is more suitable for older students, for example, who are more adaptable and do not need to use exactly the same software.

''A key element for BYOD decision-making is how much control of content and software the teachers need in the classroom.''

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal said it wouldn't be feasible for schools to continue providing computers for all students when the funding dried up. ''This is one of the things I raise all the time - what the hell is going to happen in the future? How are we going to provide IT in schools? Bring Your Own Device is a possible way of the future but I don't know enough about it.''

Mr Sal questioned how schools, which often already had slow internet, would cope if students had multiple devices such as tablets and smart phones connected to the wireless.

Hampton Park Secondary College began a trial two months ago where students were invited to hand back their education department-issued netbooks and bring their own devices to school.

IT manager George Mattar said some parents had expressed frustration students could not use their own computers. ''These days a lot of students have devices that could be classified as more powerful than the school devices.''

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

The story Schools in bind over laptops first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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