6 April 2020

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

| Michael Weaver
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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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