Technology in Australia’s Schools: The Scene in 2012

The following article was prepared as the lead article for the new technology supplement within The Australian Teacher Magazine. In brief it was designed to set the scene, to provide an overview of the current situation, to highlight the continuing waste on technology spending across the nation and the dangers associated with using an ‘ICT expert’ model. But it also identified many of the very pleasing developments underway.

Waste, Technology, 24/7/365 Teaching and Collaborative Development

Mal Lee

Throughout the last century the technology has promised Australian schools so much and yielded so little.

Today it is marginally better.

While a sizeable number of pathfinding schools have since the turn of the century begun to make excellent use of the technology and are fast moving towards its near invisible, normalised use sadly most continue to make the same old mistakes, focus on the gear, not the teaching and waste both money and opportunities.

While common sense and the research make it patently clear that it is the expert use of the tool, and not the tool itself that makes the difference school after school, government after government, media report after media report continue the preoccupation with the technology and leave the human element, the teachers, their leaders, the students and parents out of the equation, somehow imagining the latest netbook, tablet or iPad will revolutionise the teaching. It didn’t happen with the magic lantern, the silent 16 mm projector or educational television and as the research Winzenried and I undertook on the use of technology in the last century it won’t with today’s technology.

It is the teachers, the school’s leader, the school collaborating with its community and the wise use of the market in the astute use of the technology that makes the difference.

When in the region of 40%-50% of Australia’s teachers are still not provided their own digital teaching tools and the governments working on the national roll out of a ‘Digital Educational Revolution didn’t even identify let alone redress the teachers’ equipment shortcomings the national leadership is symbolically communicating very strongly the teachers don’t matter.

When the teachers don’t use the digital nor will their students, even if issued with the gear.

When the person in the school ultimately responsible for normalising the astute everyday use of the digital, the principal, is appointed without ascertaining if he/she has the macro understanding needed to be the chief architect of a digital school nor is provided the post graduate level development to prepare them for that role one can understand why so many of Australia’s schools are daily grossly underusing the investment in the technology.

When the political focus from both major political parties continues to be the laptop and not its astute 24/7/365 educational use and the evolution of a more networked and collaborative mode of schooling the likelihood of perpetuating the waste is further amplified.

Fortunately there are a growing number of very astute schools and school leaders across Australia showing the way forward, full well recognising the imperative of placing the educational agenda to the fore, of seeking to provide an appropriate education for the C21 and a networked world, of ensuring every staff member is readied to play his/her role, of collaborating closely with the student’s homes and of making best holistic use of the suite of digital technologies on the market.

Your quest ought be to learn from them.

The very real challenge is to understand the tightly integrated operations of schools which are working within a networked operational paradigm, which have gone digital and have normalised the use of the digital in the everyday teaching of all staff, and which are now collaborating everyday with their homes and communities in the 24/7/365 teaching of their young.

These schools, primary and secondary, state and non-government, urban and regional have all recognised it is the classroom teacher – not the government, nor the system or the school principal – who decides what technology will be used or not used in the classroom. Teachers are the gatekeepers to the classroom. Unless teachers believe the particular technology will improve the student’s learning, is easy to use and maintain and is readily available in every teaching room the technology will not be used despite the best efforts of digitally astute school leaders.

It is why Australia’s failure to provide every teacher the desired digital work tools is so damaging. It not only communicates symbolically the teacher doesn’t matter but more importantly it retards the shift nationally to the normalised use of the digital and collaborative 24/7/365 teaching.

It is appreciated a significant – but as yet unquantified – proportion of teachers purchase their own technology, regardless of their employer’s tardiness but it is long past the time when every full time teacher in Australia should either be provided the requisite digital work tools or the funding to secure them.

While no state or national government in the 90’s would have contemplated even low level of clerks not having his/her own computer in 2012 most are seemingly unconcerned a third, maybe a half of its teachers still don’t have one.

The research I’m undertaking with Professor Glenn Finger and Dr. Lorrae Ward is increasingly affirming that it is only when all the teachers have normalised the use of the digital in their everyday teaching will they be ready attitudinally and competence wise to collaborate with their homes and vitally work with the parents and the young themselves in better using the digital and teaching capacity of their student’s homes.

Only then will they begin thinking in the networked mode in keeping with the mindset employed by the Net Generation parents and the students.

Until that occurs the school and leadership will tinker with the technology but continue working within the old insular paper based paradigm behind their school walls or office doors believing educationally only they know what is best for their clients.

What percentage of your teachers have normalised the everyday use of the digital in their classroom?

Why not?

Until you have 100% you’ll struggle to move forward.


Unless you have a school principal with the wherewithal to perform as the school’s chief digital education architect and the capability of leading an increasingly complex, tightly integrated organisation that collaborates authentically with its community you’ll also struggle.

The principal’s leadership will facilitate or block the evolution of the school regardless of the work done by all the other staff and community members.

Collaborative teaching

In the same way solo teaching characterised the paper based school so it appears a more collaborative model of teaching that entails the professional teachers collaboratively teaching the young in conjunction with the parents, and increasingly the grandparents and the young themselves, will be typical of the digital and networked school.

The young teach themselves with the aid of an ever-evolving suite of integrated technologies and invariably their peers, 24/7/365.

Today’s schooling contributes to that teaching less 20% of the young’s learning time each year.

The remaining 80% of the teaching and learning is handled by default by the naturally inquisitive young themselves, their parent/s and increasingly their grandparent/s.

Basic to that teaching and learning is the normalised, all pervasive use of the digital, around about a half of which is still banned from use in the school.

Across the developed world the digital capacity and teaching expertise of the student’s homes is burgeoning. Historically Australia has never had such well – educated parents and indeed grandparents, or a parent cohort so at ease with the digital.

As the 2011 Project Tomorrow research attests schools have both a digitally empowered student and parent clientele desirous of collaborating with the schoolteachers.

The astute pathfinding schools in Australia and indeed across the developed world – schools like Noadswood (UK), South Forsythe High (US), Apiti (NZ), Matapou (NZ), Kimi Ora Special School (NZ) and Broulee PS and The Friends School (Aus) – have recognised the importance of integrating their own digital and teaching capacity with that of the young’s homes and have embarked on the path of pooling the school and home resources, of teaching the young collaboratively with the homes 24/7/365, of adopting a far more personalised style of teaching and creating networked school communities.

However that is only happening in those schools where at least a critical mass of the staff is digitally ready to collaborate.

Historically, despite numerous efforts from on high, schools have not collaborated with their homes, basically restricting the parent and student involvement and keeping them at arm’s length.

That situation is changing overnight in the pathfinding networked school communities. It is as if there is a natural flow on effect when all in the school’s community, the teachers, the students and the parents normalise the use of the digital.

The walls and the old divides begin to disappear.

Underpinning all these developments is the open, near invisible, all pervasive, multi-faceted use of the digital.

Significantly these pathfinding schools are seeking to make best the use of not only the teaching elements of the digital but also the facilities that will streamline the communication, the collaboration, networking, administration and organisation of the school and its community.

All have recognised the imperative of having a quality, simple to use multi-faceted digital communication suite that includes an integrating website, the email to all the members, regular multimedia communiqués and apposite social networking and collaboration facilities.

Of note is the number that have opted for open class blogs and wikis as part of that digital communications suite doing away with password entry and dismantling much of the electronic wall typically surrounding schools.

The overarching desire is authentic and open collaboration.

  • Integration

Already apparent in these pathfinding schools is the ever-tighter integration of all the schools in and out of school operations, an effective shaping educational vision, a related C21 curriculum and pedagogy, normalised on-going teacher development, the astute use of digital convergence to allow the one operation to perform multiple purposes, increased efficiencies, the use of the digital to curtail workload creep and vitally an increased level of synergy and productivity.

Such integration is simply not possible in a paper-based school

  • Market driven technology choices

Also inherent in these pathfinding schools and their collaboration with their homes and young is the use made of the market, with each member of the networked school community choosing the appropriate technology available on the market at the time.

Probably unwittingly these schools are finding like the young and the parents the best way of deciding which of the myriad of the personal digital devices to acquire is to leave it to personal choice and the market.

Most in keeping with their close collaboration with their homes have already embarked on a BYOT (bring your own technology) – or what is also known as a BYO, BYOD, BTOC or personal digital devices – technology acquisition approach, with the school providing the infrastructure and the homes the preferred personal mobile technology.

So significant has been the BYOT development, and so great are its potential implications for society’s teaching of its young that Martin Levins and I have joined with writers in the UK and US to prepare for release by ACER Press in coming months a publication simply titled BYOT that provides a general rationale for and guide to its wise implementation.

The trend line is strongly suggesting that in time all schools – some admittedly far latter than others – will use some type of BYOT in its school technology funding. The megatrends at play and the plethora of educational, social, economic, organisational, technical and political reasons for its adoption are such as to see the small 1:1 computing wave being overtaken by the BYOT tsunami.

Personal readiness, preference and the market determine the choice and purchase of the home and student personal technology.

On reflection a significant proportion of the waste incurred with the digital technology over the last 25 years can be attributed to the use of an ‘ICT expert’ model rather than letting the market shape the choice.

The ‘ICT expert’ approach has been characterised by its disregard for the individual client’s needs, their readiness, each school’s unique context, the ever changing market or the finite common life cycle of all the instructional technology.  The ‘one size fits all’, top down approach that paid little or no regard to the needs of very different teaching areas coupled with the decision making being made by ‘expert’ technology committees and bureaucrats imagining they could anticipate the market combined to provide failure after failure.

Those failings and the waste continue today and are evidenced authority after authority, school after school in relation to the DER funding. You know your situation, the plusses but also the mistakes made. In 2012 with the notebook as a technology fast disappearing from the market education authorities are still insisting it is the solution.

It bears noting the students and the parents – reading the market – historically identified the educational importance of all the children having a computer well before the vast majority of educational authorities and governments and have a far stronger track record – far less wasteful performance – in selecting the most appropriate ‘state of the art’ personal digital technology than many of the school decision makers.

Market research done in the mid 90’s in Australia revealed most parents believed they should buy a home computer to improve their children’s educational attainment. Time and research has endorsed the astuteness of their actions. A small group of proactive schools and education authorities made the same call and have reaped the dividends every since.

The Federal government didn’t do anything in the Howard years and when the Rudd Labor made its move in 2007 it erroneously opted to perpetuate the reliance on the ‘ICT expert’ model.

It is interesting to note that while those ‘experts’ opted to spend the DER money on laptops the education market has seen the continuing the push by Australia’s schools from 2003 to purchase interactive whiteboards (IWBs) for all classes K-12. While none of the authority ‘experts’ advocated the school acquisition of IWBs, except for the occasional dabble, the 2011 industry figures reveal 58% of classrooms in Australia now have IWBs.

Astute education authority administrators ought by now appreciate the wisdom of devolving the personal technology choice making to the school, its community and the market, abandoning the reliance on the ‘ICT experts’ model and so removing from their operations the very considerable financial and political risk, and waste inherent in that model.  It simultaneously removes from their remit the highly volatile decision making associated with the choice of rapidly evolving personal digital technologies and allows a focus on the far more stable networked infrastructure and specialist technologies.


Today there are pathfinding schools globally that have finally begun to harness and normalise the everyday use of the digital in their operations that provide a vital insight into the desired nature of schooling in a networked world.

They are most assuredly not wasting resources.

They also have as their overarching focus the 24/7/365 education of their young and a clear appreciation of the core role the digital must play.

About Mal Lee

Mal Lee is an educational consultant and author specializing in the evolution of teaching and schooling from the traditional paper based mode to one that is digital, and in turn networked, and the impact of the technology on that evolution. Mal’s is a macro focus examining all the elements associated with the development, leadership and operation of schools operating within a digital, and increasingly as networked school communities. Most importantly his is a positive approach that envisions how educators and school communities might best use the ever-evolving, ever more pervasive technology in the home, on the move and in the classroom to provide an ever better schooling for the full range of students. Mal is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and a member of the Mayer Committee that identified the Key Competencies for Australia’s schools. A Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Administration (FACEA) Mal has been closely associated with the use of digital technology in schooling, particularly by the school leadership for the last two decades. A historian by training Mal has written extensively, particularly in the Practising Administrator, the Australian Educational Leaders and Access, Educational Technology Guide on the astute use of technology in the development of schoolings. Mal has released four publications with ACER Press. In 2008 Mal and Professor Michael Gaffney edited and had published Leading a Digital School. In 2009 he co-authored with Dr Arthur Winzenried The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools – Lessons to be Learned, and with Chris Betcher, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution – Teaching with IWBs. In 2010 Mal joined with Associate Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) in the writing of his most significant work yet for ACER Press on Developing Networked School Communities: a guide to realizing the vision – on the next phase of schooling. Copies of the books can be obtained from the ACER Press website at -
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