The NSW Government recently announced that “a $23 million package of digital learning resources will be available for every public school student to learn new technology skills from Term 4”. On its face that sounds pretty good.
The STEMShare Community program will provide students with access to robotics, 3D printing, coding, film-making, and virtual and augmented reality, all vital technologies for the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. The Premier said:
We live in a digital age. Our students need new knowledge and skills to succeed in their studies, both today and throughout their lives.
I don’t know it’s probably just my cynicism talking, but I can’t help feeling there is more rhetoric in action here than reality. The Premier went on to say “mathematical and scientific literacy is a passport to the future” so let’s apply some maths to the announcement.
First, apparently there will be 660 STEMShare Community kits which will provide “iPads, laptops and other equipment – such as programmable robots, 360o cameras and virtual reality viewers” to primary and secondary schools. Cool! These 660 kits must be pretty good at $35,000 each. Because really there are many cheap things you could do with $23 million – for example providing every single student in NSW with an Arduino kit or a Raspberry Pi. But 360 cameras and virtual reality do sound pretty cool.
Not so much the iPads perhaps, and maybe not the laptops. There doesn’t appear to be any assessment of whether schools already have some of this stuff (for example iPads – thank you parents). So it’s clearly going to have varying levels of use depending on the school and their circumstances. And the new syllabuses being introduced next year for K-8 students means that most schools are going to have to be geared up with access to some technology anyway.
In any case these fabulous kits are for sharing: 660 kits means that one-third of NSW schools can have a kit at any given time. So at any given point two-thirds of students won’t have access to the cool package. This isn’t really meeting the rhetoric that the government is providing the resources for all our children to have the skills to survive in the new digital age.
And let’s be realistic – do you want to be the one playing with the virtual reality headset after it’s been through two other schools over the past year? Or trying to find all the fiddly robotics pieces?
A bit more reading, though, reveals that the $23 million also includes funds for training teachers. Now that is undoubtedly a good thing because handing over resources without training seems like a waste of time on many levels. In fact training teachers seems like it would be more important than virtual reality viewers and something that would apply to all students in NSW not just those taking turns with the kits. Of course the issue is that training is going to start chewing through that money at speed; so maybe $23 million is not so much after all.
Look, at one level it’s undoubtedly churlish to be counting the teeth on this initiative. But this isn’t a gift or a negotiation – it’s the government’s plan. And like every, single, time the NSW government approaches these sorts of issues it’s under-funded, under-resourced, and over-announced. Our students deserve better.