Farrah Tomazin reported in The Age last week that the Rudd Government appears to be getting just a bit cheeky with another one of its election promises, this time in relation to the provision of individual computers to all high school students in Years 9-12. Education Minister and Deputy PM Julia Gillard seemed to be engaging in a spot of pragmatic goal-shifting when announcing the funding in Essendon a few days ago:
“In the first few rounds of this program, we are taking schools to a ratio of one to two,” Ms Gillard said as she announced the long-awaited funding at Essendon East Keilor District College yesterday.
“Schools that have participated in this round will be able to apply in other rounds for further resources, but we wanted, in the initial stages, to make sure that students around the country benefited from a ratio of one to two.”
Tomazin does not shirk from interpreting these comments as effectively a broken election promise in her story. However, even without considering the financial aspect, for plain and simple operational reasons it makes sense to roll out the promised computers incrementally. Allocating 100% of the computers required for a small subset of schools in this first phase of the funding allocation (the current allocation has a five year budget) would mean that some schools may miss out on funding altogether until the final phase of the process. It would also immediately burden schools (particularly those with limited existing infrastructure and resources) with a small cache of computers with considerable maintenance, power and access requirements, requirements that need to be met as soon as possible in order for full value to be derived from the venture.
In short, I don’t think this announcement from Gillard reflects a true shift in either rhetoric or intentions. What I think is far more likely is that the financial and operational considerations associated with introducing over $1 billion in computing equipment to schools across Australia have forced the government to be pragmatic about how it delivers. Until the delivery has been fully completed, the jury should remain out on the question of whether this particular election promise has been met. I don’t think Tomazin is being fair in jumping the gun here, and nor do I think there is much to be gained for the Opposition from the current situation with this policy.