The scourge of low expectations (the Ultranet post)

Disclaimer: I have many friends who have previously worked on the Ultranet and some continue to do so. Having said that, I have never had any vested interest in the Ultranet.

In all of the talk about the auditors report into the Ultranet, in the newspaper and on twitter, I haven’t seen any discussion about the first recommendation:

“develop a comprehensive and evidence‑based strategy or plan of action for use of learning technologies to underpin and guide the significant investment in ICT for government schools”

The report evaluates the Victoria’s Digital Learning Statement, the document that should provide the basis for the Ultranet and all technology use in Victoria’s government schools, and determines that:

“The Statement does not provide a strategy, action plan or framework for investing in learning technologies.

This means that departmental staff and school leaders have little guidance on how learning technology initiatives can be appropriately planned and integrated to build upon past and present ICT investments.”

Of course, the auditor is right but its not just DEECD central office that doesn’t provide “a strategy, action plan or framework” for the use of technology in our schools, no one does.

No one does.

Schools, Principals, School Leaders, ICT Coordinators and ICT teams, technology vendors, subject associations, unions, teachers we’re all guilty of this charge and that’s why we don’t talk about it. That’s all why comments by those suggesting that the Ultranet could have and should have been replaced by existing online services are flawed. Without a purpose we can’t compare anything. We can say that for our school’s purposes this or that might have been better, but we can only say it for ourselves not for others. I know many will say they do have a plan and purpose but I’m talking about a plan as defined by the auditor. A plan that specifically justifies the expenditure and outlines the return on investment, that is how the use of modern technology leads to increased student learning outcomes and how we can accurately measure them.

The problem for us is now the auditor is asking DEECD to justify and identify the  return on investment for the  $2.6 billion that DEECD expects to invest on ICT for government schools over the next 10 years. This has been accepted (Appendix A of the audit document signed and dated 29/11/12) by Richard Bolt on behalf of DEECD to

“develop a comprehensive and evidence-based strategy or plan of action for use of learning technologies to underpin and guide the significant investment in ICT for government schools.”

See, I don’t particularly care about the review into the Ultranet, to me it is not the real challenge that we (those who believe that modern technology allows people to learn differently and better than without it) now face. I care about the review into technology in schools. I believe that we need to move beyond the scourge of low expectations that determine our use of ICT in schools if we’re to help DEECD formulate a strategy that justifies the expenditure of $2.6 billion over the next 10 years.

Because, maybe, just maybe, not having “a comprehensive and evidence‑based strategy or plan of action” was a shrewd move by DEECD up until now. Maybe, just maybe, rather than bemoaning the mistakes that were made, we should celebrate a system that has spent $1.6 billion (this figure excludes Commonwealth funding and school’s own funding) over the last nine years on technology in schools, on a belief that modern technology offers new possibilities. Maybe, just maybe, we should celebrate a system that plans to spend $2.6 billion over the next 10 years even with a detailed on maximising the “return on investment.” Because maybe, just maybe, if DEECD did have a plan, it would be like everyone else who has a plan, beset by low expectations and therefore we would never have seen the priority or the investment that we’ve seen during the last nine years.

Because maybe, just maybe, having no plan is sometimes better than having the wrong plan.


This is not to say that I believe we or  DEECD shouldn’t have “a comprehensive and evidence‑based strategy or plan of action”. And we’re certainly in a better position now than we have previously because

1. we now have access to affordable proper laptops for every student

2. we have have access to broadband and modern web-based technologies and

3. we have insights into modern/21st century pedagogies.


But this has only happened in the last few years and certainly wasn’t the case nine years ago. Yet, what used to be good enough (not having a plan) probably isn’t anymore.

My hope is that a comprehensive vision is universally (DEECD, Principals, School Leaders, parents, students, School Councils, technology vendors, twitterati …) held for how modern technologies are adopted in schools is not a vision characterised by low expectations, but rather a vision and a strategy that recognises that our students now, because of modern technologies, learn differently and that there are enormous opportunities for our schools to increase all student learning outcomes. My hope is that the conversation will turn from the faults of the Ultranet and the mistakes of the past to how we articulate a vision for technology that will give schools guidance about where to spend their money, where to invest their energy, what their teaching practice and what higher student learning outcomes we should all expect.

Maybe, just maybe, we might even see the end of the scourge of low expectations that plague us all.