Additional Chromebooks for students but access to wifi for all still an issue

Michael Weaver 6 April 2020 32
Yvette Berry

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development Yvette Berry handing out new Chromebooks in February. Photo: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

The ACT Education Directorate is moving to ensure that students without access to wifi can maintain their education as part of the ACT Government’s rollout of additional Chromebooks to public school students in years 4, 5 and 6.

This comes as the directorate prepares its 88 public schools to move to remote learning and online education due to the coronavirus pandemic.

All schools in the ACT have effectively shut down for ‘pupil-free days’ in response to concerns from anxious students, teachers and parents.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development Yvette Berry said the directorate is working on a solution that ensures all students have equitable access to education by the time term two resumes on 28 April.

The ACT Government already provides a pool of Chromebooks to public primary schools, ensuring each individual student has what they need to continue their education from home.

Ms Berry said schools are working with families to arrange distribution and that additional support could be provided by the Emergency Services Agency and Australian Defence Force if required.

“We want to make sure no child misses out on a great education just because they have no access to wifi,” Ms Berry said.

“We’re still working on a solution as we know that is one of the barriers to people receiving an education as we move to a different kind of delivery.”

The ACT Government has spent $500,000 purchasing an extra 2000 Chromebook devices, which will mean around 11,000 students in Year 4, 5 and 6 receive a device.

In 2018, the ACT Government provided every secondary student enrolled in the ACT Public Education System with a Chromebook device.

“As of February this year, we have distributed another 11,000 laptops which have all been checked, tagged and tested,” Ms Berry said.

“We’ve also checked in with our school communities on access to wifi because we know that this is a really big equity issue that is at the forefront of Education ACT’s mind.

“Schools are checking in on every household, and welfare of those households and the kinds of devices they have already, and if they don’t have any, they are making sure they have a Chromebook,” she said.

Ms Berry said ACT public schools are well placed to ensure education can continue as the community steps up to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

An online library resource for families will have tips and tools to support parents and students within their home, and students will be able to access the new Learning Resource Library, launched by the government on Monday (30 March). The Learning Resource Library has already seen 40,000 hits, including across the country and the globe.

Further digital tools such as Google Classrooms are being used to allow for a smoother transition to alternative methods of learning for students.

“It’s been a really exciting time and teachers have been able to be really innovative should we need to deliver education online after the school holidays in term two.

“That transition is already working and teachers are communicating well with their classes through the Google Classrooms platform.

“We are also running webinars with teachers to show them how to move towards the new education model in term two, which seems likely,” Ms Berry said.

In 2016 the ACT Government announced an election commitment to increase access to technology to all ACT Government secondary school students by providing them with a computer.

The government began delivery of this commitment with a 2018 budget allocation of $17 million to fund the rollout.


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32 Responses to Additional Chromebooks for students but access to wifi for all still an issue
Sair Rah Sair Rah 4:02 pm 09 Apr 20

Nobody has asked me what set up we have in place with two primary school kids at home. My original email requesting a loan device went unanswered and when I expressed concerns about coping with one iPad in the house during a phone “check in”, the school’s response was “yeah, that’s tough”. We’ve had no option other than to go and buy another device in far less than ideal economic circumstances. We’re just darn lucky we could stretch the funds to do this. Heaven knows how others are coping.

Paul South Paul South 9:49 am 06 Apr 20

I think we should all send our local libral MP a congratulations card for a substandard NBN net work . The difference of planning for the future and putting a band aid on a gaping wound . With 3 computers on our NBN is struggling.

Julia Burns Julia Burns 7:19 am 06 Apr 20

This is a great idea. The digital divide is a real problem in Canberra, even though many like to think it’s a city of people who are all middle class.

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 12:25 am 06 Apr 20

Please remember your children are getting the use of Chromebooks without payment by you. This gives all govt school kids equal access.

Karen Feng Karen Feng 3:06 pm 05 Apr 20

I could be wrong. but Chromebook are not that good. Wouldn't it be better to do a deal with companies such as dell, HP, lenovo etc to ensure the kids are getting Laptops with decent specs.

    Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 6:03 pm 05 Apr 20

    Karen Feng chromebooks are just fine for what they’re being used for...

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 6:14 pm 05 Apr 20

    Lynne Meredith If the kids need to use remoting software or even operate Microsoft Office or browse websites with video contents, it might not be enough. I think these days kids need a laptop for more than just word processing.

    back in 2009/2010 when my younger sister was still in highschool she got a free laptop. It wasnt great and specs were terrible. it was not ergonomic.

    The screen size and keyboard would have cause lots of health issues.

    In the end i purchase $600-$700 for a docking solution so she can split her work. this way she can still use the stronger PC at home and still use her school laptop in an ergonomic way.

    After 2 years the school laptop was useless. A laptop I purchase for $1500 was still useful after 5 years.

    Nate Mooré Nate Mooré 10:30 pm 05 Apr 20

    Karen Feng they use a bunch of Google apps online that are well integrated. They're fine. My kids 4yo ipads are fine.

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 11:43 pm 05 Apr 20

    Nate Mooré Ipads and most tablets are limited to what they can do. This is why i spent near $1900 on surface pro7. Its cost is because of its specs and it is a tablet. But for an actual laptop, i still suspect that the Chromebook is going to lag and its not going to be as reliable as a laptop around $800, running one of Intel's iCores.

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 12:22 am 06 Apr 20

    "Why Chromebooks? Chromebook laptops have been selected because these devices will best align with existing Canberra public school ICT infrastructure. • Stu dents are already equipped with access a specialised Google G Suite for Education platform where they access learning through the Classroom Learning Management System (LMS) as well as a wide range of Apps to support learning in all fields of study. Chromebooks are a managed device offering all students with a safe, secure and platform for learning. • Teachers are already familiar with these existing platforms and extending their means can focus on improving learning and teaching without needing to learn different technologies. • Support staff already have the knowledge and skills to support students and teachers to use and get the most out of their Chromebook and the Google education platform. "

    Nate Mooré Nate Mooré 12:24 am 06 Apr 20

    Karen Feng nope, it's not. But for the thousands across the act school system that the govt is paying for, it's more than adequate for what the kids are using it for, as are the 4yo ipads. I would consider it a waste of my various taxes if my own kids were using anything more powerful for their use case at their school.

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 12:42 am 06 Apr 20

    I guess i just had very negative view of the last laptop the government gave to my sister to use. The items i purchased to make the laptop more ergonomic far exceeds the cost of the laptop. In the end the laptop was use mainly as a text book.

    Even browsing cause lag as it doesn't have as much processing power to process the contents of some webpages. MS Office will freeze.

    But that's my view. Good luck if your kids are able to cope with it but i rather the government give a gift voucher of equivalent value so we can choose to buy the one we want.

    Peter Reichstein Peter Reichstein 6:11 am 06 Apr 20

    Karen Feng Chrome books are all that is required for primary school kids who are learning maths and English. They are not designing rocket ships to go to the moon 😀

    Jodie McGuire Jodie McGuire 6:49 am 06 Apr 20

    Karen Feng I have four school age children in the ACT. It took me some time to adjust to the operating system on the ChromeBooks....but they are more than adequate for Educational purposes. The Google Classroom suite is actually a fairly decent enough platform. I’m grateful that now my Year 5 daughter will

    Received one...we’ve run out of devices to assist with homeschooling 😊.

    As an educator, I work with students across Year 7-12. The use of Googledoc’s means I can be working on the same document as a student remotely from

    Home.

    But maybe it was the deal they struck up with google that drove the choice? Google now knows everything about all of us 😬😡.

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 7:21 am 06 Apr 20

    Peter Reichstein I built a new computer in 2005. One of the reason why I budgeted it at $2000 is because I know it will become my sisters primary PC.

    This PC was used by her from primary school all the way to year11. It was used even when she had her school laptop.

    I just think its better to give them technology that will cater for all sorts of needs and as technology and needs change the computer is flexible enough to meet those requirements. They don't need to go to moon. But it should be powerful enough for any changes.

    Even though the PC was built in 2005, it was still more powerful and reliable than the school laptop and lasted all the way to 2011.

    As we had 2 older computer at the time (2003), I realised that as time goes by technology does change. Website do require more resources. The most updated software as well. Spending a little extra more not only ensure the computer can be use longer but will also reduce electronic waste.

    I have purchase new laptops around $500 with intels celeron. the laptop was terrible and laggy and was only useful if I want it for word processing and nothing else.

    The Lenovo school laptop had a RRP of around $500. I rather the gov give that amount in the form of a gift card so we can use it to buy a laptop around $1,500.

    Ngaire Harvey Ngaire Harvey 7:27 am 06 Apr 20

    Ours are great.

    Jenni Zimoch Jenni Zimoch 7:54 am 06 Apr 20

    People can struggle to pay the $300 for a Chromebook, there's no way the majority of families can afford $800 or more, especially with more than one child.

    And big surprise, the government doesn't have an unlimited pool of money, particularly right now.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:54 am 06 Apr 20

    They don't need Microsoft Office - GSuite has an application that covers everything MS does. Browsing the Internet is better with a Chrome book than with an Apple, as Chrome is one of the better browsers and Google is the top search engine. They're stable, durable and affordable and make great use of a lot of open source technology.

    In 2005, computers were very different and technology changed slower than it does now. Your "back in the day" anecdotes do not demonstrate that chromebooks are not sufficient for ACT students.

    I, for one, am grateful that we live in such a progressive jurisdiction.

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 8:09 am 06 Apr 20

    Karen Feng but then the rich get better than the poor. They want them to have the same, and we are talking school here not gaming.

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 8:12 am 06 Apr 20

    Karen Feng ergonomic? All laptops will be the same in that regard.

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 8:15 am 06 Apr 20

    Karen Feng the only thing that will make them lag is the internet. Have you even seen one of the chromebooks they have?

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 8:54 am 06 Apr 20

    Robyn Holder If no one else have issues than great. But from the experiences i see my sister have and what i need to do to ensure reliability I feel it was better if the government gave us a voucher instead.

    I guess overtime its up to those kids to find out whether those laptops are powerful enough to meet their needs.

    we're not rich either, with what we dont give my sister such latest electronic/toys/trendy phones/expensive phone plans, we are able to use that money for a better PC.

    I've seen the specs of the Chromebook, its not a PC I would rely on. Thats just my thought on the government issued laptops.

    Steve Smith Steve Smith 8:58 am 06 Apr 20

    To clear up some things here. Intel cpus are used through the chrome range. The functions will be different or limited, that being said the fact my desktop pc's hardware locked 4k Netflix desktop app functionality wont work on chromium isnt a huge loss and wasnt used to begin with. Chromium which is the OS has a limit for professional apps and gaming support but has great integration of andriod applications and g suite which is widely used in education in many countries now. Web browsing is the same as most with limits on changing logged in profiles without logging out first but again this is the same as a standard work PC with functions locked down. This makes it safer to configure to limit access without kids being able to just sign out of the school google profile and into their personal one. This makes it easier for parents that don't work in IT to manage or at least know their kids machines wont let them access the bad online. Slow perform in the past was likely due to lower than required ram in a machine, windows 10 has a minimum 4GB of ram required but using only 4GB will mean only 500mb for actual use which will be used by word with ease causing slow downs. Chromium OS requires far less upfront hard resources allowing for hardware costs to be kept a bit lower also. If video editing or photo editing was required then avoid these or if you need to run things like virtualisation locally. But for young kids, the google apps are great.

    Paul South Paul South 9:51 am 06 Apr 20

    Karen Feng its is more likely the internet connection . When the children are on chrome books . We need to shut every wifi device off .

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 10:11 am 06 Apr 20

    Steve Smith I like your response. its more constructive. That was the main issue. normally it is fine but once my sister needs to add pics to MS word or do something with publisher, or even edit an image thats when it mostly screws up. Photoshop CS5 was provided but depending on what you're doing there is also lag. Some online tutorial provided by the school requires video. It just wasnt working that well.

    Even worst, the 10" Lenovo from the school was small and would cause wrist and shoulder issues so i had to create a method for my sister to dock her laptop and use a full size wireless keyboard.

    This was over 10 years ago on windows 7. I dont know how the government is implementing this now but by time my sister needed a laptop after year 12, I gave her my Toshiba that I bought in 2010. Because its running an intel i7 and have sufficient ram it was able to meet her needs.

    From an early age i had my sister learn the Microsoft Office software as well as how to do her reports, add and edit images etc. I just dont have faith that the current Chromebook will allow these tasks to go smoothly.

    When you mention "integration of android apps" it makes sense. I do know that the Android software on my tablet, while isnt as powerful as the software on my PC, is sufficient.

    Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 2:52 pm 07 Apr 20

    Karen Feng the ACT Government issued Chromebooks are higher end HP rugged use models.

    Chrome has a number of apps and extensions available, as well as the Google suite and Google Education platform (including Classroom).

    Chrome books are more than adequate for most student learning needs and teachers have become quite adept at delivering content and resources using them.

    Elliot Maroney-O'Brien Elliot Maroney-O'Brien 4:17 pm 07 Apr 20

    Karen Feng a surface pro with a 12" screen is a terrible laptop.

    Elliot Maroney-O'Brien Elliot Maroney-O'Brien 4:19 pm 07 Apr 20

    Karen Feng a chrome book is just a laptop with Google operating system. Often HP or lenovo brand which you are saying they should be lol.

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 4:38 pm 07 Apr 20

    Elliot Maroney-O'Brien correction it is 12.3". I just need a reasonably strong tablet on the go running windows 10 and can also run a Android emulator.

    I just need it to be bigger than my Galaxy Tablet that is 10".

    Its running an intel i5 with 8gigs ram. which is why i can even run an emulator.

    Probably not needed by a primary school kid. but definitely i would get a laptop for the kid with an Intel icores around the $800 range.

    Elliot Maroney-O'Brien Elliot Maroney-O'Brien 5:02 pm 07 Apr 20

    Karen Feng Too small as a laptop really. 12 (or 12.3 inch if you really want to be pedantic) is too small to work decently with and is a common complaint with most staff where we have been using them for 4+ years displayed to a 22+ inch monitors. A 15.6 inch screen (which most call 15inch), would be much more usable than a small 12". Maybe as a simple laptop computer it's okay, but not when you are paying over $2000 for it.

    If a surface pro was 14+ inch (prefer 15) I would recommend it, but it's not even close.

    It all depends on what one wants to use it for I guess. Definitely not as a school laptop at the price they are.

    Karen Feng Karen Feng 5:35 pm 07 Apr 20

    Elliot Maroney-O'Brien You're making the assumption I do all my work on 12.3" screen.

    I dont recommend doing all your work long term at all on a laptop.

    There are laptops currently running Intel's iCore for around $800. Those are the ones, not the chromebook. I just dont like the specs.

    My 12.3" is that size because i want a slightly bigger tablet.

    Paul Leins Paul Leins 9:17 pm 07 Apr 20

    Folks are more than welcome to upgrade if they so choose, but the simple fact of the matter is that a chromebook is excellent for normal productivity work and can browse and run video more than capably. The Google apps suite runs in a browser, and cloud storage means that kids never run out of storage. The battery lasts all day and they're not an attractive theft target.

    Try and visualise what a student actually does in a school day, and how they treat their school bag, and really think if they should be carrying something powerful and expensive?

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