The Turnbull government has NSW teachers fearing a “digital divide” due to the reforms made to the about-face on Gonski program. Research shows parents are struggling with the growing burden of having to buy devices, which can cost up to $1200 for each child. The government’s decision not to fund the final two years of Gonski school funding means that wealth determines the quality of a child’s education. This is especially so in the realm of innovation and technology, as the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scheme means that children will bring what their family can afford.
Many NSW schools are making improvements and refining their own BYOD schemes by offering product recommendations and financial hardship assistance, however nearly half of school parents do not feel they are getting value for money, with a quarter having bought unsuitable devices previously. Thirty-seven percent of parents have said that they have been given almost no guidance, if any, from schools regarding which device is most suitable for their child’s learning style.
Concerningly, a quarter of parents of senior school students say they were advised to buy a tablet, such as an iPad, when this would generally be inappropriate. Pip Cleaves, owner of education and technology consultancy Design, Learn, Empower, said touch-based tablets were not appropriate for senior students who need to complete word processing, spreadsheets, and calculations. Parents are also making emotional choices and purchases based on what others are buying. They must consider the learning needs of their child and buy a device according to that,” said Ms Cleaves, also a parent and head teacher.
Choosing an incorrect device can hinder the student’s growth and development. Many of the computer companies and retailers are benefiting from this demand for laptops, tablets, and two-in-ones, with retailers like Harvey Norman setting up BYOD-specific sales in certain areas and Lenovo collaborating with schools such as Sydney Boys High School (SBHS).
A NSW Education Department spokesman said the “school level” partnership was centred around “ease of purchase, providing an efficient way to purchase devices”. A Lenovo spokeswoman said: “Lenovo is not directly partnering with SBHS but its channel partner, ASI, is providing a portal where the school can buy Microsoft and Apple devices, as well as Lenovo products.
Many parents feel pressured into buying expensive devices, and with multiple children in the family it can be very costly in the end. A NSW secondary school teacher, Bill Cohen has said that a major retailer had falsely assured and sold parents “BYOD-ready” devices, which was not the case as the device was not able to use the 5 gigahertz wireless network which is the standard for NSW schools.
Durability is the most common trade-off. The more expensive something is, the more likely it is going to be built out of components that are durable. That’s something that often suffers when parents in lower income brackets.
Often children already own devices, however due to the school’s strict requirements, families are forced to purchase extra devices to match the school’s pre-approved list, or apply for use of an alternative device, which is often a time-consuming process. Despite the added costs, the general use of electronic devices to assist with education has a positive at school overall which should still be acknowledged.