Over the past few months there has been a ‘disturbance in the force’ – pardon my Star Wars humour. It started late last year when NAPLAN released its latest report on the ICT literacy skills of students in Australia based on the 2014 tests. The report stated that the ICT capability of students has declined despite the investment of the government in technology in the classroom. Last week, there was an article in The Australian on a Sydney school principal ‘banning’ laptops at the school because he believed they were a “huge fraud” and waste of money. Now, what will be what I believe to be just another part of this chapter and not the end in itself comes another article from the SMH reporting that Sydney schools are banning laptops because they believe “it is doing more harm than good”.
After spending $2.4 billion dollars on technology in the classroom the government failed to provide teachers in schools the funds they need in order to receive effective professional ICT development. Handing out laptops to teachers without training can only create such an effect as it has today. Teachers as a result of the lack of training, have started to see the negative effects instead of being witness to a transformational change in education. Eventually, despite the pressures being placed on school principals to continue using technology in the classroom, they are forced to decide to ban technology use and save the limited funds they have left or available for other educational resources where they would see better value from its use.
Then there are those schools that want to provide their students with digital skills like St Paul’s Catholic College, and have rules ensures that students have at least one day away from their typical screen time.
Yet, it must be hard for those teachers in schools where this is happening to hear about the Young ICT Explorers of today. There has been some remarkable achievements over the years. Such is so that it does demonstrate what can be done.
It is no wonder then that the ICT capability of students are declining. Unfortunately, unless there is adequate funding provided to schools to allow teachers to take part in effective professional ICT development this trend will only continue. In a nation that is trying to prove itself digitally to the rest of the world, this could have a disastrous effect sending Australia's digital economy – which in itself has a stronghold in every industry – to its lowest performance in history.
According to the ACARA CEO, Robert Randall, “the decline in performance is of concern, and there is a need for a renewed focus on the teaching of digital technologies in schools.” The expectation of teachers that technology will develop student ICT capability itself is one that can no longer take place. Proficiency levels of students in NAPLAN tests needs to improve. To add to this, as these tests focus on higher order thinking and achievement of specific knowledge, understanding and skills relevant to a sophisticated use of information and communication technologies – it is time to go beyond just using technology in the classroom and develop student ICT capability.