My fellow colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to speak on an issue that has surfaced, and one that will impact the future of the country and its people. According to Microsoft, our schools have been rated amongst the world’s most advanced users of technology in the classroom. Seven of our schools have been chosen to participate in Microsoft’s 2011 worldwide Innovative Schools Program. This will help teachers and school leaders and administrators to more effectively use technology in learning and teaching. This I think is a great move that will see the Australian population becoming more educated and aware. The schools that now hold the title of ‘Mentor School’ will be instrumental in helping other schools in Australia and throughout the world that are participating to develop best practices that will help them in integrating technology in their classrooms.
This therefore, ladies and gentlemen, takes me to the Federal Government’s announcement that it will not be continuing funding of laptops in high schools for some categories of students. Since 2008 almost 1 million computers have been issued as part of Labor’s Digital Education Revolution. Funding for this scheme will run out in June 2013. Principals are disappointed. We are now in the process of trying to work through with the state on how best we can partner with them to continue this worthwhile initiative. Technology is not a one- off investment and we have to keep it going with the necessary infrastructure, with professional learning and with curriculum development and the necessary learning devices.
I quote from Tim Berners-Lee, Director and inventor of the World Wide Web “The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” This therefore brings me to the Digital Divide. We are all aware that the internet and other ICT’s are transforming society. We do not want to be left behind or we do not want to regress. We are already rated amongst the best in our schools, now we want to extend it so that all who are able to, can use the internet and other technological devices to help them. Some may argue that it is not necessary, but think about it ladies and gentlemen. Isn’t the use of the telephone a necessary tool in everyday life? The computer, the cell phone, various tracking devices are used for our safety and for guaranteeing that our families are safe, and we too are safe. The head of the Catholic School in Sydney says that the program should not be renewed. But I would like him and all those who agree with him should think again.
My fellow colleagues, we do not want to be caught up in the digital ‘split’. We have to find ways and means to access the necessary Information and Communications Technologies at an affordable cost. As parliamentarians we need to be au fait with technology. Online technologies would greatly advance our work. Parliament would be more in step with what is happening in society. Take for instance, the Unites States model of electronic voting. The internet enables millions of persons to take part in the democratic process of their country. This ladies and gentlemen is called cyberdemocracy and it is becoming a reality that not even us can ignore for very long.
On January 23, 1973, the new electronic voting system became operational in the United States. There are over 40 electronic voting stations in congress. Members can remain in chambers and vote. Congress has introduced what is called the Cybercongress project where an extensive range of electronic gadgets is made available to officers and members so that there is constant link between offices. There are phones, fax, computers and computer services available to assist with official business. If we discontinue the funding to schools we are running the risk of creating that divide that will keep us apart. If we equip ourselves with the necessary ICT tools we will be bringing to Australians numerous opportunities no matter where they are located. Presently the limited access of users of the internet have created inequities and have created the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The Government’s business is to create the equality for all Australians to have access to information.
We are all aware that it will cost billions of dollars but let us look at the long term rather than the short term. Hector Ruiz, ex-Chairman of the Board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (AFF) said that “Broader access brings education, information, and a sense of community that can help combat AIDS, malnutrition, ignorance and neglect”. He says that a connection to technology will enlighten the world community.
Let me further highlight and inform the house on other numerous benefits that a move to be technically equipped will bring. The political landscape will be transformed. I am sure we all like to hear this. Members of senate will have access to computer laptops. There will be library and other media resources readily available. The ease at which documents and information can be circulated will be facilitated. There will be many naysayers but in time they too will join the ‘party’. The flimsy criticism that these devices would be a distraction does not hold water. Parliament is too old-fashioned. We need to be involved and aware. We need to be able to deal effectively with the complexities that the 21st century brings.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow colleagues, the Australian parliament has decided to bridge this gap. We must narrow this gap. Let us all make a concerted effort to continue this program. Jane Mackarell, in an article said that 20 percent of schools in Australia represent the global program. She believes that this involvement in such a program reflects the positive attitude, and is an indication that positive innovations like the Digital Education Revolution are making inroads everywhere in the country. Ladies and gentlemen, all of the school principals and most stakeholders are upbeat about this turn of the century move. Let us give our children a positive start in life. Let us give them the tools. Let us provide them with the knowledge and experience they need to succeed in this digital society.
The Digital Divide, ICT and the 50x15 Initiative. ICT – Information Communication
Lundy, Kate. Cyberdemocracy and the Future of the Australian Senate
O’Hara, Susan. Robert Pritchard. (2014) What is the Digital Divide's Impact on Learning.
Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall