Address To The Australian Computers In Education Conference
Address to: The Australian Computers In Education Conference, Canberra, 1 October 2008
Traditional owners Ngunnawal people
Ralph Leonard – Technology in Education Federation Association representative and ACCE Board Chair
The Computer Education Group of the ACT and the ACT Catholic and Independent Teacher Librarians Network
ACCE Board members
International delegates from NZ, USA, England, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Scotland, Philippines, Taiwan, Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Nepal
I am very pleased to be here at the Biennial gathering of the Australian Computers in Education Conference and to welcome participants from Australia and abroad.
First, I would like to commend you all for your vision of promoting excellence in the use of learning technologies in education. Many of you have dedicated a lot of time to this endeavour, in the process ensuring many Australian students, educators and communities are switched into and part of a digital learning community.
There are many shining examples of what can be achieved by an innovative future-focused approach to learning. It’s great to know that these will be shared at this conference, allowing more schools and learning institutions in Australia, in New Zealand and indeed in other parts of the world to benefit from your expertise.
Importance of being digitally engaged
Your conference themeACT on ICTis one which certainly resonates with the Rudd Government. We signalled our absolute determination to ‘ACT on ICT’ in the lead up to the election last year through the Digital Education Revolution.
We have positioned our Digital Education Revolution as one of the central initiatives of our broader Education Revolution.
We see our $1.2 billion investment in the Digital Education Revolution as a critical investment in preparing students for further education and training, for the jobs of the future, and to live and work in a digital world.
And we know if we are to prosper in an intensely and increasingly competitive marketplace, we must all change the way we operate, learn and interact.
As the recent report from Dr Terry Cutler on National Innovation has made abundantly clear, innovation will be at the heart of a successful Australian economy in the 21st Century. Innovation must play a central role in the process of education and training and it must be embedded in our classrooms and in the way we teach.
When you think about how the world of the child has changed in the past 150 years it’s hard to imagine any way in which ithasn’tchanged. Kids today are immersed in all kinds of things that were unheard of 150 years ago, and yet if you look at schools today they are more similar than dissimilar.
The fact that we live in a technology-driven world is something our school system is still coming to terms with in embracing. And we must if we are to prosper in the 21st Century.
As you know, the students in our classrooms today have grown up with change and innovation as their backdrop. They spend hours in the virtual world downloading information, playing games and socialising, tuned into their MP3 players or mobile phones or hooked into all the other toys and tools of the digital age.
It is absolutely anomalous then not to take this technology that is so much a part of their world a step further. We must embed it into the school curriculum so that kids are engaged in learning in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them.
While ICT has fundamentally reshaped whole industries, revolutionised production processes and generated massive improvements in productivity in our workplaces, our education systems have been slower in adapting.
Certainly, ICT has had a major impact on the administration of education systems. And computers and the internet have proved to be powerful tools for individual research and study. But technology is still seen as something of an optional ‘add-on’ to the teaching process in the vast majority of Australian schools. Technology is not yet near the centre of our daily classroom practices.
Of course, there are many exceptions to this and many inspiring examples of teachers using technology in innovative and educationally compelling ways. But as a general rule, the average Australian student will encounter far less technology and make far less use of that technology while he or she is in school than in daily life outside the school.
Let’s look at two different school scenarios.
Amanda attends a school that has embraced ICT in every aspect of its being. In this school, students, staff and parents are connected via a broadband network which is truly the lifeblood of the school. Today, her morning starts with a field trip with a geologist based in a rural property in the highlands of East Gippsland. Amanda’s participation is facilitated through the use of an interactive whiteboard allowing a realtime connection with specialised support and a visual link providing a unique, yet cost effective experience. Her teacher has already uploaded worksheets and study notes to her workspace and has sent a message to her parents’ inbox informing them that an assessment task on this topic is due in a weeks’ time.
Two suburbs away at Sam’s school computers are only available in the school library. He has to book a computer, and his access is rationed to 1 hour a week. His school possesses one interactive whiteboard, paid for by numerous fundraising drives by the P&C, and access is strictly rostered between classes. Today, his morning starts with watching an in-class science video on a 20-year-old television wheeled in from the staff room. It takes just five minutes for Sam to mentally log out of the lesson and begin thinking about the player moves he will make when coaching his virtual AFL team that night.
Now there are two very important fundamentals at stake here.
First is the question of equity. In a country which prides itself on the fair go, how can our schooling system on the one hand turn out a student like Amanda, equipped in every way to maximise her chances for success in a digital world alongside a student like Sam, who, if he even makes it through school without pressing the Escape button, will emerge way behind the starting line on which the Amandas of the world are poised?
The second fundamental is the question of Australia’s economic survivability and sustainability.
In a worldwide race for skills it is of paramount importance for Australia to provide upcoming generations with the skills needed to boost our productivity and prosperity into the future. That is why the Rudd Government is investing $1.2 billion in the Digital Education Revolution.
Digital Education Revolution
The Digital Education Revolution is about ensuring our schools have the technological infrastructure to make them work; our teachers have the tools, e-learning resources, professional development and support to optimise their use of technology to lift attainment levels and there is the professional IT assistance in place so technology can effectively be deployed.
There are four key things which must be done if we are going to succeed in our revolution:
- First, there must be universal access to high quality computers. It is just common sense that students and teachers cannot make effective use of the potential of information and communications technology unless they have access to appropriate computers.
- Second, the computers must be networked. The educational power of computers comes only when they are connected. Teachers and learners must be connected with each other, with information and with learning tools wherever they are located around the world.
- Third, there must be compelling educational content and there must be tools which can make that content available to learners and help them to actively use it.
- Fourth, teachers must be provided with the training necessary to become skilled users of technology in education and they must be offered effective support, both technical and pedagogical, to use the technology.
The different elements of our Digital Education Revolution directly address these essentials.
The $1.1 billion National Secondary School Computer Fund, to be rolled out over five years, is designed to ensure all Year 9 to 12 school students in Australia have access to a computer.
I’m sure that some of you have already taken advantage of the opportunities offered in the initial roll out of the fund, or are hoping to do so in Round Two, which closes on 9 October.
Eight hundred and ninety six secondary schools across Australia will receive 116 820 new computers through Round One of the Fund. All Australian secondary schools will benefit from the fund over its lifetime.
To ensure that all schools can connect with each other and with the world, we will be investing $100 million to contribute to the provision of high-speed fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband connections to schools.
Fast, reliable broadband will give Australian students access to new education applications such as virtual classrooms, e-books, visual and audio streaming and high definition video conferencing.
Schools in remote areas will receive a standard of service that will be as close as possible to the standard provided by the National Broadband Network.
We recognise that in order to embed ICT into learning in schools, we will need sophisticated software, access to high-quality resources and easy to use tools for teachers to get those resources to their students and assess their use of them.
These will build on the potential of virtual learning environments to provide flexible, personalised learning opportunities that bridge the gap between in- and out-of school learning.
Through the Digital Education Revolution there will be far greater scope for sharing classes, projects and activities across Australia and internationally. Schools will have the opportunity to use online communication to engage geographically dispersed specialist teachers, parents and other members of the community in the educational process.
We have committed $32.6 million over two years to supply students and teachers across Australia with these online curriculum tools and resources. These curriculum tools and resources will be aligned with the national curriculum that will be developed by 2010.
We will build on the work already done through existing initiatives such as the Learning Federation.
We will also need to learn from what has been done in other sectors of education. The Learning Object Repository Network in the Vocational Education and Training sector is one example. This network allows teachers and trainers to find and use online training resources from across the Australian vocational education and training (VET) sector.
We will be consulting closely with key bodies such as Australian Council of Computers in Education on how to use the funds available to get the best possible result.
Possible projects which could be supported include:
- a nationally consistent approach to storing and managing online curriculum content, at the local and system level; and
- a Learning Activity Management project that will provide teachers with an integrated online learning environment to provide tools that will make it easier for teachers to use technology to plan and deliver lessons and courses.
Support for teachers
Teachers have to be confident in their own ICT capacity and understand the potential benefits of using ICT in a planned and sound way.
For many teachers, this is a whole new world of expectation and responsibility. The Government recognises this and is putting in place a range of measures to support them to embrace technology as a key tool to assist them in the classroom and to get better results for their students.
We are supporting a range of professional development measures aimed at improving teacher quality including the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program. These measures have made, and will continue to make, a sustained and substantial contribution to the quality of teaching in all Australian schools.
In 2009, $11.25 million of Australian Government Quality Teacher Program funds will underpin schools-based activities related to ICT professional development for teachers and school leaders.
We have also established a new Teaching for the Digital Age Advisory Group, with members drawn from the non-government and government sectors to provide expert advice to the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs. This expert group will develop teacher professional development programs to support the Digital Education Revolution throughout its lifetime.
We are also mindful of the need for professional IT support, particularly for smaller independent schools.
While schools are able to identify the number of computers required to provide equitable access for their senior secondary students, they often lack the staff with the skills and knowledge to maximise their effectiveness.
To address this need, $10 million of the National Secondary School Computer Fund will go towards establishing support mechanisms to assist schools to effectively deploy the ICT equipment purchased from the fund. My Department is consulting with education authorities to determine the support mechanism which will best suit their needs.
You may also like to check out the information on our digital education website, like the Better Practice Guide: ICT in Schoolswhich provides advice on ICT planning, technical and security and infrastructure issues.
The program of work I have mapped out today in rolling out our Digital Education Revolution is an ambitious one. But it is achievable if we work together cooperatively in the interests of the current and future generations of Australian students.
The Government is pursuing a collaborative approach to ensure that we have the skills, curriculum materials, supporting systems and infrastructure in place to sustain and utilise our investment in ICT and broadband capital effectively and innovatively.
Finally, once again I applaud the work being done by Australian educators and communities to ensure Australian students are equipped for the 21st century.
I hope that your attendance at this conference will help you to act on the ICT opportunities presented by the Digital Education Revolution.