NSW government to roll out netbooks for every school student…

Well, this news is a little bit old, but just bear with me for a second here.


THE NSW Department of Education and Training has dished out the first contracts for the $386 million computers-in-schools program, with the spoils going to Lenovo, Microsoft and Adobe.
The computers will be given to over 200,000 government secondary school students in years 9 – 12 and 25,000 teachers across NSW.

Teachers will first receive the laptops in July in order to understand the hardware and software while year 9 students will be handed machines at the start of term 3 in September.

The announcement comes at the end of an extremely competitive tender process, which started last December when NSW called for expressions of interest seeking a compact learning device vendor and a wireless network supplier as part of the federal Government’s $2 billion Digital Education Revolution.

Of course, Year 9 students don’t need notebooks, and I’m completely unconvinced that there is any benefit to having them at all, and they’re not just intrinsically a huge waste of money. But let’s just ignore that point for a moment.

Lenovo has picked up a $150 million contract to provide up to 257,000 IdeaPad S10e laptop personal computers to the teachers and students.

Microsoft and Adobe will be responsible for the software side in a combined deal worth $25.5 million.

Part of this includes a $20 million agreement with Adobe – $12 million from the NSW Government and $8 million from the federal Government. The Microsoft licensing contract forms part of its volume licensing agreement with the Government, the value of which has not been disclosed.

The remaining spend for the computers-in-schools project will be handed out to a wireless network supplier which will be announced in mid-April.

NSW Premier Nathan Rees said the technology would enable school children to collaborate on projects.

“Students and teachers will also be able to set up video conferencing and collaborate on assignments using the built in web cameras and software within the department’s secure network,” Mr Rees said.

“Using this software, students will be able to create videos, edit photos and make presentations for class assignments and projects.”

Is any of that actually going to happen in the classroom? Is any of that actually going to be beneficial or desirable in the classroom, or is it just going to be a huge distraction from the actual learning in the classroom?

“The Adobe software includes Photoshop Elements, Premier Elements, Dreamweaver and Flash.

All the laptops will come with Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system and Office Professional, which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.”

Wait, what?

Here’s the actual list of software, which a little birdy helpfully provided me with:

* Adobe Photoshop Elements
* Adobe Premier Elements
* Adobe Acrobat Professional Extended
* Adobe Flash CS4 Professional
* Adobe Dreamweaver CS4
* Adobe Fireworks CS4
* Adobe Contribute CS4
* Adobe Presenter
* Adobe Captivate CS4

* Microsoft Windows XP Professional and utilities
* Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (Word, Excel, Publisher, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Access)

That’s a huge list of extremely expensive software, which these kids don’t need, and is a massive waste of money. Adobe Captivate? I’ve never even heard of it, so how useful and important is it really, for these kids?

How much time is the government expecting to see spent, in the English classroom, the science classroom or the maths classroom, teaching students how to use Flash or Photoshop? Of what possible worthiness could it be? What an absurd waste of money. How much time and effort do you expect the English, science or maths teachers to spend learning how to use these pieces of software, and instructing students in their use?

But there’s a more fundamental problem than that.

The Lenovo IdeaPad S10 machines are running on an Intel Atom 1.6 GHz CPU, with 512 Mb of RAM, a 80 Gb hard drive, and a 10″ screen.

The Atom microprocessor is a very low power consumption, low-performance chip for mobile devices. It’s really not a powerful device at all.
Basically, they’re very low-powered, low-cost netbooks which are not designed to support anything more than very basic web browsing, email, and basic text document editing. They’re very “slow” computers.

I doubt you can even successfully open Adobe Premier on these computers. The majority of the Adobe CS4 suite will simply not be usable at all on these computers, even if it was useful in some way. It’s extremely expensive, completely pointless, and it will not be practically usable.

Even if you had a massive amount of memory, massive amount of hard drive space, and a massive amount of CPU performance in these machines, I wouldn’t bother trying to work with Photoshop at all, on a machine with a 10 inch screen.

You can barely even install a normal version of Windows on machines like this and expect to get any real degree of performance… it’s best if it’s either Linux, or a cut-down, customised Windows install.

In the second half of this year NSW DET will upgrade its fleet to Microsoft’s next-generation operating system, Windows 7.

Ugh. No thanks.

Mr Rees said he wants the computers in schools as soon as possible.

“NSW public schools lead the nation in providing computer resources, giving our teachers and our young people the vital skills they need to help them succeed in our IT savvy world,” he said.

Students will be able to keep their computers after Year 12 if they complete their schooling.

The machines are already extremely low-powered as it is. By the time the students finish Year 12, they’ll be well and truly obsolete.

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