Over the past year, there have been louder voices within Government and the media discussing the ‘uncertain’ future of the Ultranet in Victorian schools.
This will come as no surprise to those of us that have ignored the bad press, over-looked the obvious limitations and put hours of effort into using the Ultranet as a springboard to reform pedagogy within ourselves and within our schools.
The Ultranet has had, I fear, the final nail driven into its coffin by the recent release of a review by the Victorian Auditor-General Des Pearson. The report concludes that the VicSmart broadband initiative – $89.3 million to provide fibre optic broadband to all government school in Victoria – was well planned and well implemented. The Ultranet, on the other hand, is described as being “significantly late, more than 80 per cent over its first announced budget, has very low uptake by users, and does not have the functionality originally intended.”
The recommendations of the Auditor General are to:
- assess whether the contractor has delivered what was promised
- assess financial management of the program to determine what the real cost has been
- identify why take-up has been so low among students, staff and parents (feel free to ask me!)
- providing advice to government on the cost-benefit of decommissioning the system now against continuing to fund and rectify the system so that it can be implemented as originally expected
All recommendations have been accepted by the DEECD and it is the last one in particular that sounds the death knell for me. The Victorian Liberal Government has been burnt by the Myki saga and cost-blowouts - it is unlikely that they will be eager to embark upon another open-ended financial journey with a Labor-initated project. In addition, the use of the Ultranet is currently affected by the Australian Education Union work bans that have been enacted during the 2 year Enterprise Bargaining Agreement negotiations with the Victorian Government. Removing the Ultranet usage as a bargaining tool from the AEU may be an attractive gambit in their negotiation plans.
To top this all off, the incredibly poor management of the Ultranet implementation process has only served to drive a majority of time-poor teachers away from this tool and into the arms of other, online solutions that, well, just work. Edmodo, SharePoint and many other programs are able to achieve what the Ultranet sought to without all the hassle!
Monday, August 9th, 2010 is forever burned into my mind. On this day, the Principal class of the school were asked to attend the launch of the Ultranet. A big, flashy presentation from Premier Brumby and Education minister Pike with all the media present and even a big bus. An exciting time to be had by all! Meanwhile, staff back at school were having a training day that was failing because the Ultranet crashed under the strain of every teacher in the state trying to log on.
This single episode can be highlighted as the day that a majority of teachers in Victoria wrote the Ultranet off as a ‘waste of time, resources and expertise’.
Unfortunately, the damaged caused by this mindset would be more devastating than anything the Ultranet tool could have possibly done.
to be continued…