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Rural and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

Rural

and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

Information technology infrastructure

More than anybody

else isolated kids are ready - because of their independence and responsibility

- to take advantage of this technology and they can't. [Public meeting

in Bourke NSW, 1 March 1999]

Objective

The national inquiry

into rural and remote (school) education raises, among other things, the

quality of educational services including technological support services.

This paper sets out some information about the available and proposed

information technology infrastructure for your information. Our aim is

to invite your comments on the adequacy of the proposals and your recommendations

for improving provision for rural and remote schools.

This paper is a work

in progress which will be progressively developed and refined as further

information is received by the Inquiry.

In this paper

  1. The

    legal framework

  2. Definitions
  3. Federal

    government policy

  4. What

    are the appropriate standards for information technology infrastructure

    in schools?

  5. What

    is the current IT infrastructure in Australian schools

  6. Problems

    and barriers in the provision of information technology infrastructure

    for rural and remote students

1. The

legal framework

International

law

The right of children

in rural and remote schools to have appropriate access to information

technology is covered by provisions in a number of international human

rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory. They include provisions

in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article 28 of the

Convention sets out the core right of all children to education. Article

29 provides that the child's education shall be directed, inter alia,

to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and

physical abilities to their fullest potential.

A number of provisions

in the Convention have particular relevance to information technology.

Article 17 provides that children have the right to information through

the mass media. Under Article 13, children have the right to freedom of

expression through any media of their choice.

Domestic

law

Under Australia's

domestic law, the most relevant piece of legislation is the Telecommunications

Act 1997 (Cth) which contains the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The USO is set out in Part 7 of the Act and represents the core community

obligations of the telecommunications industry. It has important implications

for the provision of technology in rural and remote schools. It is aimed

at ensuring that all Australians, including those in rural and remote

areas, have access to a standard telephone service, payphones and prescribed

carriage services on an equitable basis, wherever they live. Telstra is

the National Universal Service Provider and has responsibility for meeting

the USO obligations.

2. Definitions

Bandwidth

- The number of separate communications a communication channel can handle

simultaneously. The greater the bandwidth the more messages can be handled

at the same time.

Bps Bytes per

second - the rate of transfer of data through a communications channel.

A byte is a unit of data and the more bytes per second the quicker the

transfer.

E-mail Electronic

mail - sending messages to a specified address or addresses over an

electronic communications network such as the Internet.

Information technology

- Technology for reproducing and communicating information and for accepting

electronic instructions. With the spread of digital technology, has come

to cover not only computers and the Internet but also entertainment devices

(such as TV and video), commercial devices (such as teller machines and

Eftpos) and household appliances with in-built computerised controls (such

as microwave ovens and air-conditioners). And perhaps most importantly,

telecommunications services.

Internet -

Many different computer networks around the world and the interconnections

that allow them to communicate with one another.

Local Area Network

- A network that allows communication among a specified number of computers

rather than being open to the world at large. For example, a business

may have a network that can be used only by computers within that business.

Software -

The instructions that make a computer perform tasks. Often a distinction

is made between the operating system which tells the parts of the

computer how to work together, and an application or program

(such as a word processor or spreadsheet) which the user controls to perform

tasks.

World Wide Web

- One of the entities through which people send and receive information

on the Internet.

3. Federal

government policy

In December 1998

the federal government released its policy statement A Strategic Framework

for the Information Economy- Identifying Priorities for Action. It

stated

This document

reflects the Government's commitment to ensure that Australians, including

those in regional and rural areas, enjoy the social and economic benefits

offered by the growth of the information economy.

All Australians,

wherever they live and work, and whatever their economic circumstances

- need to be able to access the information economy at sufficient bandwidth

and affordable cost; and need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge

to harness the information economy's benefits for employment and living

standards.

Among the stated

objectives of the government in this policy statement were to ensure that

Students

leave Australian schools with the online skills and knowledge they need

to benefit from employment and other online opportunities.

The Government clearly

recognised the importance of technology infrastructure in the delivery

of education for rural and remote Australians.

Online technologies,

in themselves, will be an important tool in the cost effective provision

of education and training. They offer the potential to transform the ways

in which teaching and learning occur. For rural and remote Australia,

online technologies offer a unique opportunity to address educational

disadvantage stemming from the tyranny of distance. Not only do they facilitate

communication between the student and the learning institution; they also

enhance interaction between the students themselves, allowing them to

share their ideas and work on group projects.

For schools, the

challenge is to provide all young Australians with the general information

technology skills and learning resources that will equip them to take

advantage of future student training opportunities. We need to ensure

an information-rich - information-poor' divide between schools does

not develop. Teachers, especially those in rural and remote areas, will

need access to professional development and training so that they can

coach students in the online environment and use information technology

as a teaching tool. High quality, locally produced, online content that

is relevant to Australia's education system is essential.

The government has

committed itself to working with the States and Territories and also the

private sector to meet these challenges.

4. What

are the appropriate standards for information technology infrastructure

in schools?

The Australian Computer

Society has set out a framework for the development of information technology

in schools. This framework provides some useful guidance in defining appropriate

standards of information technology in schools. The framework covers a

number of specific areas and sets out 4 stages of development for each

area, the 4th stage being the optimum.

IT equipment

Stage 4: All students and staff have access to computing services which

suit their needs.

IT in the curriculum

Stage 4: The school curriculum is widened through the use of Information

Technology and delivery becomes more student centred.

Networking

Stage 4: School networking uses wireless connections for workstations.

Connections from outside the school are available.

External electronic

communication

Stage 4: The school network is connected to the Internet for full service

(E-mail, telnet, world-wide web etc.)

Accessing software

Stage 4: Software is made available to any workstation from school, local

and global repositories.

Software acquisition

Stage 4: Software is collated against curriculum on a whole school basis.

IT management

in schools

Stage 4: The school IT plan is informed by and fits into a systematic

plan, which incorporates a sensitivity for the social impact of technology.

Some further guidance

on the appropriate standards for technology infrastructure in schools

is provided by the Education Network Australia (EdNA) Reference Committee

in Towards An Australian Strategy for the Information Economy: A Position

Paper. The Committee said that for schools, there needs to be a commitment

by all Australian governments to

  • ensure that by

    the year 2001 all Australian schools will

  • have sufficient

    multimedia capable computers, peripheral equipment (such as printers,

    scanners) and local network arrangements to allow whole classes to

    participate collectively in online learning activities;

  • have access

    to communications facilities which will permit whole classes to connect

    to the Internet and participate in learning activities; and

  • have access

    to transactional facilities

  • remove price based

    impediments to schools outside metropolitan areas accessing the Internet.

5. What

is the current IT infrastructure in Australian schools?

Commonwealth

programs

Government

The Commonwealth

plays a role in the provision of technology infrastructure for schools.

The Commonwealth Government's Investing for Growth program allocates

funds for high quality surplus Commonwealth IT equipment to schools, including

those in rural and remote areas.

"Networking the Nation"

is another relevant Commonwealth program although it applies more broadly

than just education. This program involves funding of $250m over 5 years

from 1 July 1997. The program funds initiatives to address telecommunications

needs in regional, rural and remote Australia. The aim of Networking the

Nation is to support the economic and social development of regional,

rural and remote Australia by funding projects which

  • enhance telecommunications

    infrastructure and services in regional, rural and remote areas;

  • increase access

    to, and promote use of, services available through telecommunications

    networks in regional, rural and remote areas; or

  • reduce disparities

    in access to such services and facilities between Australians in regional,

    rural and remote areas and those in urban areas.

Telstra

Telstra, which is

partly owned by the federal Government, also provides technology infrastructure

for education including rural schools. This is part of Telstra's overall

strategy of expanding its services to rural Australia. In May 1998 Telstra

released a statement titled Telstra puts the Outback in Front.

It stated

Telstra

today unveiled its multi-million dollar satellite strategy which will

extend the availability of telephony, data and Internet to potentially

all country customers before the end of 1998 - affirming its commitment

to rural Australia.

Importantly, Telstra's

multi-million dollar investment is about 'putting the outback in front',

boosting access to information, electronic commerce and key services

like health and education.

. Telstra anticipates

investing around $1 billion in country Australia in the current year

. country customers can look forward to enjoying communications comparable

with those enjoyed in major cities.

This strategy includes

a program to help rural and remote customers access the Internet more

cheaply. This program involves the installation of "Points of Presence"

(POPs) in rural areas. There are approximately 100 POPs across Australia.

Customers within the local call zone of the POP are able to connect with

Telstra Big Pond (and hence the Internet) at the cost of a local call.

Telstra has developed

a number of initiatives relevant to school education, some with a general

focus and others with a specific rural focus. Telstra Rural and Remote

Fact Sheet Educating Rural and Remote Australians (25/5/98) noted

that Telstra has in excess of 50 projects around Australia aimed at developing

the "virtual classroom". These projects involve approximately 12,000 educational

facilities at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Many of these projects

directly benefit rural and remote students.

Some specific initiatives

include

Learn-IT partnerships

Learn-IT is a division of Telstra established for the purpose of supporting

the education sector. It currently involves partnerships with 15 peak

education bodies and this is likely to increase. Examples of partnerships

that benefit rural and remote students include the Aboriginal Video Distance

Education Program project at Kowanyama, a small settlement half-way up

Cape York in Far North Queensland. It enables children to use the Internet

and Conferlink Videoconferencing for education purposes.

Education Value-Add

Telstra supports schools to run Internet training sessions out of normal

hours for their school communities, local businesses and the general public.

Education conferences

Over 5,200 educators from both rural and metropolitan areas have taken

part in Telstra's education seminars. The seminars emphasise the benefits

of technology for schools and demonstrate how it can best be utilised.

Reduced line rentals

In 1997 Telstra reduced line rentals for 12,000 education clients from

$30 per month per line to $11.65 per month per line. This has resulted

in savings of millions of dollars each year for schools.

Special awards

program

Rural and remote students are able to display their multi-media skills

through five education award programs run by Telstra throughout Australia

  • Early Childhood

    Association Award

  • Atom/Interact

    Award - for the tertiary student who completes the best multi-media

    project

  • Australian Export

    Award

  • Schools website

    competition

  • Education Foundation

    Best Government School Project.

Learning material

Telstra has developed a range of books, posters and other printed material

on telecommunications and the information superhighway. The material can

be obtained by calling Telstra FREECALL on 1800-633-033.

State

and Territory programs

All States and Territories

have established long term plans for the development of information and

communications technology in schools. They include goals for achieving

a required ratio of "computers" per student or school within a set period

and providing access to the Internet for all schools. However, there are

significant differences among States and Territories in their strategies,

including the level of resources applied to them. They range from relatively

minimal plans that provide basic ISDN quality connections to more substantial

plans including quite comprehensive professional development programs

for teachers. Some recent and current initiatives are outlined below.

This information will be updated in consultation with State and Territory

education departments.

New

South Wales

The NSW Government's

"Computers in Schools" program includes

  • connection of

    all NSW schools to the Internet in 1996

  • enhancing Internet

    services to schools through SchoolsNET which will connect all NSW Government

    schools to the Department of Education and Training's Wide Area Network

  • a professional

    development program for teachers called Technology in Learning and

    Teaching (TILT) established with a goal of 15,000 teachers completing

    it by June 1999

  • provision of 80,000

    computers across all NSW schools and the achievement of a better than

    1:11 computer:student ratio

  • funding to facilitate

    the use of this technology in schools through networking and technical

    support

  • 40 Technology

    Advisers based in different districts to support school technology planning

    and activities

  • curriculum documents

    for both primary and secondary schools supporting the integration of

    IT in school curriculum

  • support material

    to assist schools with

    • use of the

      Internet

    • development

      of a school Internet Access Policy

    • school publishing

      on the Internet

  • resource material

    for teachers and students on the Department of Education's schools world

    wide web site "Network for Education"

Victoria

Victorian initiatives

include

  • a plan to achieve

    a 1:5 computer to student ratio by June 2000 involving the provision

    of 61, 500 new computers over 3 years

  • $28.4 m over 4

    years in subsidies for multi-media computers for students

  • $6.6 m over 2

    years in subsidies to enhance teacher access to technology

  • notebook computers

    for approximately 36,700 principals and teachers over 5 years

  • over 2,000 surplus

    computers per annum for schools

  • a state wide area

    network including a broadband core with a minimum 64Kbps link to each

    school to facilitate the development of

    • Edumail, the

      electronic mail system available to 45,000 staff in schools and

      in the Education Department

    • Edulibrary,

      the electronic library of the Education Department's policies and

      publications

  • a learning technologies

    planning and implementation guide for schools

  • policies to integrate

    learning technology into all areas of school curriculum

  • Victorian Education

    Channel, a comprehensive online package of educational resources for

    students and the community

  • SOFWeb, the website

    for schools, containing information on the use of technology in education

    and learning

  • EduNet Internet

    Services, an Internet service for schools and TAFEs containing thousands

    of catalogued web sites with appropriate safeguards especially for primary

    students

  • Victorian Student

    Achievement Monitor, an interactive secondary school assessment program>

  • $56m allocated

    to professional development for teachers in the use of information technology

  • Statewide Licence

    Agreements under which Microsoft and several other major IT corporations

    provide a wide range of software free to schools.

Queensland

Programs undertaken

by Education Queensland include

  • Schooling 2001,

    a comprehensive 3 year (1997-2000) $83m program for the use of information

    technology in schools

  • Connect-Ed, a

    $53m program to connect all schools to a wide area network by ISDN or

    satellite

  • the School LANS

    project, a $40m program to provide every school with a basic LAN by

    2001

  • the Schooling

    2001 project allocated $30m in 1998-99 for

  • a target computer:student

    ratio of 1:7.5 by 2001

  • the "Connecting

    Teachers to the Future" program to provide teachers with laptops, Internet

    accounts and a two week vacation school

  • all minimum skill

    requirements for all teachers by 2001 supported by funding for staff

    development programs

  • a requirement

    for all schools to have 3-5 year plans for the management of learning

    technology

  • quality curriculum

    software and online resources.

South

Australia

The South Australian

Government allocated $85.6m over 5 years (1997-2001) for expanding the

use of technology in schools. Key goals under the Government's DECStech

2001 Project include

  • a computer : student

    ratio of 1:5 by 2001

  • Local Area Networks

    for all schools, units and administration sites

  • broadband telecommunications

    services for all schools

  • a wide area network

    that will connect all schools, units and administration sites with the

    Department of Education, Training and Employment

  • professional development

    and training for all staff

  • funding of curriculum

    projects to develop teaching and learning methodologies based on new

    technology

  • technical support

    programs provided through District Offices and a central Customer Centre

  • a subsidised computer

    support scheme for schools

  • arrangements for

    schools to acquire curriculum and anti-virus software at discounted

    prices

  • cash grants to

    schools for the purchase of computer furniture, software and associated

    equipment.

Western

Australia

The Education Department

of Western Australia has a Technology 2000 strategy encompassing various

programs to enhance learning through the use of technology. It includes

  • EdNet, a program

    to connect all schools in the State to the Department's network ($13.2m

    in 1996/97-1998/99)

  • A computers for

    students program supported by cash grants to schools so that by 2002

    they will have a minimum ratio of 1:5 for secondary students and 1:10

    for primary students ($112.96m in 1996/97-98/99)

  • satellite receivers

    for all country schools ($0.65m in 1996/97-1998/99)

  • funding for all

    schools to establish an Internet connection and access appropriate support

    for the use of the Internet in curricula ($7.5m in 1996/97-1998/99)

  • cash grants to

    schools for library automation ($1.65m in 1997/98-2000/01)

  • a requirement

    for all schools to develop a learning technologies plan before they

    can receive cash grants for computers

  • a range of school

    support strategies provided through Central and district office service

    groups.

Tasmania

The current Tasmanian

Government, elected in 1998, indicating that it would develop a comprehensive

strategy for IT in schools.

This paper will be

updated with further information about the Tasmanian strategy.

Northern

Territory

Following a major

review of IT in Northern Territory schools, $0.75m was provided for the

development of the Education 2000 Strategy. The Strategy has been completed

and submitted to the Government for endorsement.

This paper will be

updated with further information about the Northern Territroy strategy.

Australian

Capital Territory

Strategies developed

during the 1997-2000 period include

  • the establishment

    of a secure communications network between schools and onto the Internet

  • cash grants for

    schools to develop IT facilities and support

  • arrangements with

    IT corporations to provide hardware and software to schools

  • provision of pentiums

    to all permanent teachers

  • a professional

    development program for teachers based on localised coaching and training

  • school-based action

    plans on information technology in learning and teaching

  • funding for the

    integration of IT in curriculum design.

Other

programs

Distance

education

Distance education

schools play a vital role in the delivery of education for rural and remote

students. They are increasingly making use of information technology and

telecommunications in the delivery of their programs. Distance education

is provided mainly through State and Territory education departments.

Tasmania

The Tasmanian Open Learning Service delivers education through diverse

means utilising print based items, videos, audio tapes, computer disks,

E-mail and Internet. It also has programs to provide professional development

for teachers in the use of information technology and to facilitate the

implementation of technology infrastructure in schools. In 1997-98 $2.75m

was allocated to distance education in Tasmania.

Northern Territory

Distance education initiatives operated by the Northern Territory Government

include Schools of the Air ($2.848m in 1998-99), Northern Territory Open

Education Centre ($3.057m), Open Learning Support ($0.641m) and Open Access

Schools ($2.075m).

Victoria

The Distance Education Centre is the main provider of distance education

for Victorian students. The Centre delivers courses aimed at effectively

meeting the educational needs of students whose circumstances prevent

them from attending regular schools. Its courses include print based,

audio and visual learning material as well as Internet facilities.

New South Wales

The New South Wales Government's 1998-99 budget allocation for rural education

included funding for Distance Education Centre support through eight secondary

and eleven primary centres.

Western Australia

Western Australia's School of Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE) is

based in Perth and includes five Schools of the Air. SIDE services students

from pre-primary level to Year 12. It uses a wide range of communication

systems including telephones, electronic mail, interactive multimedia

and live television programs delivered via satellite technology.

South Australia

The Open Access College of South Australia includes the School of the

Air located in Port Augusta. The core technologies it uses are print,

video, audio, telephone conferencing and HF radio. In recent times increasing

use has been made of desktop videoconferencing, Internet services and

a range of other new multimedia products in the provision of distance

education in South Australia.

Queensland

Distance Education in Queensland is provided by the Government's Open

Access Unit. Its programs include telecourses and teleconferences delivered

through the Government's satellite network. In 1998-99 $27.492m was allocated

to distance education in Queensland.

The Australian Capital

Territory does not provide distance education.

Public

libraries

Public libraries

are also significant in the provision of technology infrastructure for

rural and remote students and their families. Within the public library

system there are a number of programs aimed at extending online library

services to rural and remote areas. An example is NSW.Net, a project managed

by the State Library of NSW, to connect NSW local councils in a network

of high bandwidth connections to the Internet. It involves a set per annum

cost for participating councils, thus ensuring that rural and remote communities

are not disadvantaged. So far more than 60 councils have accepted the

offer to connect to NSW.Net. A key objective of the program is to reduce

the inequalities between rural and metropolitan NSW. The program is funded

primarily through the NSW Government's allocation for public libraries,

supplemented by a federal government grant through the Online Public Access

Initiative. Similar programs have been developed in other States and Territories.

Community

and private sector programs

Technology infrastructure

has also benefited from various community and private sector initiatives,

some of them developed in collaboration with government. Some examples:

Volunteers for

Isolated Students' Education (VISE)

The VISE scheme has been operating for about 9 years. It involves sending

volunteers to spend 6 weeks with families, working as home tutors for

students and advisers to the parents. VISE is co-ordinating an "Internet

to the Outback" project, funded by the federal Government's "Networking

the Nation" program. Under the "Internet to the Outback" project, VISE

volunteers show families how to get the most from Internet technology

in partnership with the School of Distance Education in their area. The

University of Ballarat provides the volunteers with training on the use

of the Internet in distance education.

Internet Cafes

Until recently the development of Internet cafes was confined to cities.

In January 1998 the world's first Outback Internet Cafe was opened at

Blackall in Western Queensland. The cafe is situated in the foyer of the

Blackall cinema. The cafe has been used by all age groups. Local schools

have made regular bookings to use it. It has enabled teachers for the

first time to set projects requiring Internet research. In its first 3

months it received approximately 3,000 user visits, in a community of

1,700 people. The establishment of the cafe involved co-operation between

the local community and the Queensland Government (through the Department

of Public Works and Housing, the Premier's Department, Office of Rural

Communities and the Information Industries Branch, Department of Tourism,

Small Business and Industry) and the private sector.

6. Problems

and barriers in the provision of information technology infrastructure

for rural and remote students

Despite the positive

programs described above, access to appropriate technology infrastructure

remains problematic for many rural and remote students in Australia. This

was highlighted by the EdNA Reference Committee in Towards An Australian

Strategy for the Information Economy: A Position Paper.

The lack

of telecommunications infrastructure in Australia is a particular problem

in regional and remote areas . The costs of providing and updating infrastructure

and the associated operating costs are extremely high, particularly in

rural and remote areas. The lack of Internet service providers (ISPs)

within local areas of rural and remote parts of Australia make Internet

access extremely costly in comparison to regions with local access to

ISPs.

Schools in rural

and remote areas tend not to have access to adequate communications

facilities. The prices which such schools must pay for telecommunications

services and Internet access are significantly higher than in metropolitan

areas. The more information technology becomes a central part of the

delivery of education and training in Australia, the more equity of

access will become a central issue for the sector.

The findings of the

EdNA Reference Committee have been echoed in the information and evidence

received by the Inquiry. In Bourke NSW the Inquiry was told

If I can

speak on behalf of distance education in this respect for a moment, the

access to technology in terms of Internet and the use of Telstra lines

for kids that are beyond Bourke is almost non-existent. There is a satellite

trial being conducted from Broken Hill next term, which will give a very

limited ability for kids to be in constant contact with their teachers.

Nevertheless, until Telstra extends the ISDN lines beyond Tottenham and

Bourke the kids that are on distance education will always be at a technological

disadvantage. They have the computers, they have the hardware, they have

the software, and they have the teachers. We have the infrastructure at

school but we do not have the telephone lines to support it. And that

is an enormous disadvantage to the distance education kids.

It is frustrating

that the education infrastructure is there but the technology infrastructure

isn't. If you are on a radiophone - they have trialed this in South

Australia - they can run on 320 bytes per minute. It would take you

about three days to download a sentence. [Public meeting, Bourke

NSW, 1 March 1999]

Technology infrastructure

is more than just software, hardware and telephone lines. It also requires

people with the skills and expertise to support and maintain these systems.

A number of submissions spoke about the lack of access to technological

support for rural and remote schools. A primary school teacher from Broome

WA told the Inquiry

Technology

is a focus for our school but we are extremely disadvantaged. Even though

we receive adequate funding there just does not exist the support service

needed. An example, we are setting up a school computer network so that

we might be able to provide Internet facilities into classrooms. Existing

staff members have limited expertise. Contractors/computer providers can

install the system but to maintain the system we will be floundering.

We learn as we go. Metropolitan schools have a number of support people

they can use (Ed dept and private companies), all of whom are keen to

offer competitive quotes for such service. [Submission No. 22]

In a submission to

the Inquiry, a secondary school teacher from Dubbo NSW described the sense

of frustration arising from inability to deal promptly with equipment

breakdowns.

Nothing

is more frustrating than having equipment breakdown etc and not being

able to get it fixed in an acceptable amount of time or without exorbitant

cost. The access programme relies on technology, however, the company

from Sydney that installed it has no agent in our area. Consequently when

you phone them they give you instructions over the phone and if not successful,

we send it to Sydney. Unfortunately when it comes back with a clean bill

of health the problems may reoccur. New technology does not always behave

when introduced to an older Telstra network.

We are as I write

this having such a problem with our conferencing equipment. It has been

3 weeks and the problem is yet to be solved. I have frustrated staff

and students because communication with the other schools is between

unreliable and non-existent depending on the day.

The down time

for student learning because of technical breakdown is significant.

The time wasted by teaching staff trying to fix problems over the phone

etc can also be significant. [Submission No. 11]

Similar frustrations

were expressed at public meetings.

We . have

had some reliability problems with software and things like that. It is

getting better but it takes an inordinate amount of time to rectify. We

have had to build in an allowance of non-teaching [for one staff member]

for him to maintain the system. [Bourke NSW, 1 March 1999]

Every time there

is a power surge our main file server in the library goes down. In the

last week there was one day where we had four. In some cases it means

a complete recovery of the system. This is a big problem. [Brewarrina

NSW, 2 March 1999]

These problems do

not relate only to the infrastructure located within schools. They also

affect students engaged in distance education who need access to appropriate

technology in their homes. For these students and their families, costs

can be extremely prohibitive. The Open Access College in South Australia

told the Inquiry

Students

enrolled in distance education need access to one workstation per family

with a modem and printer and individual software licences. This is much

more expensive to set up than the concept of a computer room or individual

computers on a Local Area Network (LAN) in a school environment. The Federal

Government needs to consider some sort of subsidy scheme or grant to provide

access to this technology for remote and isolated families, similar to

the Homestead Video Scheme of the 1970s when these families had no access

to television. [Submission No. 23]

Similarly, lack of

access to public libraries or inadequate facilities within libraries adversely

affect rural students and their communities.

[R]egional

and rural library users remain deprived of the range of library access

points, resources, staffing, services, technology and Internet connectivity

common in urban areas. The three most critical deficiencies are lack of

access points, far too few professional and paraprofessional staff, and

slow progress in Internet provision and training for the community. In

particular, there has been a failure in most parts of rural Australia

to examine the merits of school housed public libraries for smaller communities.

[Presentation by Peter Munn & Anna Handley from the University of South

Australia Library, at 'Healthy Communities for the Bush', 3rd National

Conference for Regional Australia, Broken Hill November 1998.]

The inquiry has also

heard some positive stories about technological infrastructure in particular

schools and communities. At one meeting with a group of secondary students

several of them spoke about the abundance of computers as a result of

recent purchases by the school. They also indicated that Internet access

was generally very reliable. [Meeting with secondary students in Bourke

NSW, 1 March 1999]

It is also clear

to the Inquiry that some very positive advances have been made in particular

areas, despite resource limitations and other barriers, mostly due to

the vision and commitment of the individuals and organisations involved.

At the moment

in South Australia the infrastructure for technology in rural and remote

areas is very poor. The college has successfully trialed the use of the

Internet for conferencing with distance education students. Parents and

teachers have indicated that using technology has motivated students,

has improved the interaction between the teacher and the student and has

reduced the isolation as students can communicate through e-mail. [Submission

No. 23]

Some submissions

to the Inquiry suggested strategies for addressing the inadequacy of technology

infrastructure for rural and remote students. Grahame and Linda Code from

Aberfeldy in Victoria told the Inquiry

Capital

and financial assistance should be given to enable modern communication

equipment, including computers, fax and dedicated telephone lines for

this to be available for children in rural and remote areas. Ongoing financial

help also should be considered, to keep the equipment up to date with

modern technology. [Submission No.2]

The Executive Officer

of St Patrick's School in Camperdown Victoria proposed a number of solutions

for enhancing technological support for rural and remote students.

Legislate

for the free use of telecommunications for schools, decentralise specialist

teachers and advisers, prioritise schools according to their remoteness

so that they can have first access to on-line programs, fund cabling,

technological upgrades and computer laboratories for all schools. [Submission

No. 31]

 

Last

updated 2 December 2001.