Federal government to evaluate education revolution targets

Audit report finds department could have engaged better with education authorities

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) will release an evaluation strategy this year for the Federal Government’s $2.4 billion Digital Education Revolution in an attempt to better gauge the success of the program.

The department’s decision comes in response to an audit report which found it had failed to properly ensure data quality and set performance indicators for the rollout of student laptops and computers under the revolution package.

The report, released this week by the Australian National Audit Office, commended the department on speedy and largely thorough administrative processes surrounding the implementation of the National Secondary School Computer Fund (NSSCF), a key aspect of the education revolution package promised by Kevin Rudd at the 2007 Federal election.

Under the program, the government promised to provide an initial $1.2 billion in funding to state and non-government education authorities to ensure a computer to student ratio of 1:1 for those in Years 9 to 12 by the end of 2011. That funding has since increased to a total of $2.4 billion for the revolution package, with $2.3 billion of that going toward the rollout of computers and supporting services to maintain the ratio until at least 2014.

Some $294.5 million has so far been committed to the program in three rounds of funding, with a further $807 million agreed to for supporting services.

According to the report, approximately 413,000 computers have been delivered so far to students. School principals surveyed by the audit office indicated computer to student ratios of between 1:1.3 and 1:2.5, with the agreed 1:1 ratio expected to be complete early next year. However, according to recent calculations by Computerworld Australia, current progress indicates the program could fall short of its target by 203,143 computers by the deadline.

While the report was largely positive of the program, it noted weaknesses in gathering and gauging its progress, particularly in non-government schools.

“While DEEWR worked with education authorities to collect preliminary survey computer data as a basis for allocating application round funding, and required education authorities to verify and provide assurances about the accuracy of the data, DEEWR did not perform simple checks on the data to provide assurance over data quality,” the report reads.

The audit office suggested the department improve data reliability by providing more granular detail on the computers rolled out and engaging more thoroughly with individual schools.

The report also suggested increased reporting from non-government schools in order to ensure those authorities continue to contribute the 30 per cent minimum required funding to achieve the computer to student ratio.

Further reporting would also be required by all education authorities in order to strike a more appropriate balance between Federal funding and state-based rollouts, under recommendations identified by the audit office and agreed to by the department.

Federal minister for school education, Peter Garrett, jumped on the report as evidence of the program remaining on track and the overall success of the government’s $64.9 billion education system.

“We welcome the report and I’m particularly pleased to see it notes this historic program is having a positive impact on teaching and learning within schools with a survey of school principals highlighting that students are becoming more engaged due to their increased access to computers,” he said in a statement.

In response to the audit report, the department noted it would formulate an evaluation strategy to better gauge the program’s success and engage with education authorities early next year to meet any possible shortfalls in meeting the target ratio.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags digital education revolutionauditEmployment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)government

More about Australian National Audit OfficeFederal GovernmentNational Audit Office

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