Information and communication technologies (ICT) have become fundamental in the digital world of the 21st century; our 21st century children have had a good start. Many students enter school being familiar with the basic operations of computers, tablets and other mobile devices. However, teachers need to be able to deliver the curriculum using this technology to adequately inform, motivate and interest students.
Technological infrastructure, resources and support across WA’s public schools are both inadequate and inequitably distributed. In addition, recent research (Preston 2020) has highlighted significant barriers students face in accessing technology in their home environments:
- “Digital inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology” (US National Digital Inclusion Alliance 2020, quoted in Preston 2020).
- In 2016, over 12,000 WA public school students did not access the internet. Over half of these students (6,297 students) came from the Perth Metropolitan area; 2,070 students from Perth’s South East. (Preston 2020)
- In 2016, 15 per cent of all WA public school students who lived in unsuitable housing did not have internet access. Unsuitable housing is based on an “insufficient number of bedrooms for the number and demographics of dwelling residents. Such unsuitable housing makes it difficult for students to have the space and quiet to successfully study, complete homework or undertake schoolwork at home” (Preston 2020).
- In 2016, 29 per cent of WA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public school students did not have internet access. (Preston 2020)
Public education provides a pivotal role in providing high quality education to current and future Western Australian students. It is essential that capital funding and recurrent funding is provided for the Education and Training departments to support the management, distribution, maintenance, repair and replacement associated with ICT infrastructure and utilities for our public schools and TAFEs.
The SSTUWA has significant concerns that the reliance and success of ICT infrastructure and integration is overly dependent on the knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm of school leadership rather than systemic support and processes. This is not an adequate or appropriate solution to the provision of equitable and sustainable high quality public education across WA.
The SSTUWA notes that the Australian curriculum contains an ICT component embedded across the curriculum and ICT is specifically referenced in the general capabilities. However, without the funding for ICT infrastructure, teaching resources, ongoing professional development for teachers and school leaders, and systemic support, schools can only offer what is within their limited resources and capabilities.
The SSTUWA believes that the current funding arrangements for public schools have not accounted for:
- The increasing costs of ICT infrastructure (including maintenance/replacement/support) or associated utility costs.
- Dedicated ICT support staff for the management of equipment and infrastructure at the school/TAFE site.
- Dedicated ICT support staff for teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers.
- Funded ongoing professional development required for teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers to keep up with emerging technology and/or its use an educational tool.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the inadequate infrastructure capabilities across WA schools and TAFEs and the resources needed to support remote learning.
In addition recent research has indicated that “even if students and their families have full digital inclusion, there are other reasons why remote learning was difficult or impossible for many students...including domestic violence (in many cases arising from new circumstances of sudden unemployment and isolation at home, even if employed (Taub 2020, referenced in Preston 2020) overcrowded or insecure housing, and lack of proficiency in English” (Preston 2020).
The SSTUWA seeks:
- The funding of ICT in schools to be by way of a targeted initiative in addition to the Student Centred Funding Model (SCFM) and specifically included in state government budgets.
- The provision of dedicated ICT support staff for the management of equipment and infrastructure at school/TAFE sites.
- The provision of dedicated ICT staff to support teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers.
- Funded, ongoing professional development necessary for teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers to keep up with emerging technology and/or its use as an educational tool.
- Technological resources to be made available to students free of charge, including regular maintenance and replacement [no bring your own device (BYOD)].