Politicians still failing to grok technology

SMH: Laptops in schools will be antisocial

The State Government will give 197,000 senior public high school students a mini laptop next year. It will have wireless but no access to Facebook and MySpace.

The Minister for Education, Verity Firth, said the Government would prevent access to the social networking sites, and other sites, even when the laptops were used at home.

“We don’t want these kids to be using these computers for the not-so-wholesome things that can be on the net. And they won’t be able to because essentially the whole server is coming through the Department of Education.”

Bwahahaha! Good luck with preventing the kids finding an easy hack around this so-called blocked laptop. I’ve already thought of at least 3 ways to approach getting past it, and I only read this story 5 minutes ago, and I’m not a dedicated hackgeek. I guess the pollies will still have plausible protect-the-children deniability though: “we tried, how could we know that kids were this tricky?”.

The other side of the coin: why on earth would the kids want to take their laptop home with them when they finish their education? How obsolete will it be 4 years after they were issued with it, particularly when these laptops probably won’t be cutting-edge latest release anyway? The Dept of Education would be better off taking them back, wiping their memories and installing kiddy software for the kindy kids of four years hence to bang away on for a few years until they progress to better things, and the older kids can go out and get themselves something new and shiny.


H/T Phil Gomes on Facebook

Categories: education, technology

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19 replies

  1. Sigh! Yup, pretty pointless. I think that they could easily prevent students from using facebook et al while at school via blocking it over the local wireless but I think attempting to prevent it at home is just begging for students to find away around, which they will. That said perhaps this is an intentional learning approach – place barriers and let the kids learn how to solve them.
    The NT are looking at the XO laptop from the OLPC program because it is its own social networking environment (gasp! a government encouraging social networking. . .) It has a mesh networking system that allows each laptop to link with all the others – up to 2km away.
    They even encourage students to hack the OS.
    Grendel’s last blog post..Centrals

  2. They’re giving the kids laptops to take home… do they expect these laptops to survive one term, let alone a whole year in one piece?
    How exactly is this State government going to guarantee that they are looked after?

  3. A small anecdote about how the NT Education department blocked a Jane Austen site is at: Internet Censorship Will Haunt Rudd Government
    John Howard’s opt-in filter Safe Eyes was hit and miss at best when I trialled it last year. It allowed access to Youtube but blocked searches such as ‘John Howard’.
    Kevin Rennie’s last blog post..John Howard’s Commanding Performance

  4. I’ve been wondering about that too, Purrdence, although I’m particularly concerned about how easy it would be for bullies to destroy all of someone’s schoolwork with a simple bottle of water. At the moment, the first group of laptops are only going out to years 11 and 12, and bullying does tend to be less of a problem in those years (and, indeed, the kids are more likely to take care of the machines), but once it’s extended to years 9 and 10– I shudder to think.

  5. Ahh…three years ago my entire district rolled out a laptop program much like this one. They were pretty good laptops -Mac OS 10.2 with 1 GB RAM.
    It was a total racket, though.
    You had to pay $100 for the insurance. You gave the laptop back at the end of each school year, and they checked for cracks in the casing/frayed power cords and charged you up to $100 for the laptop and $80 for the power cord. Every year, mind. Then next fall you got your same laptop back again. Now I ask you, how, if we’re taking the laptops in our backpacks to and from school every school day for FOUR YEARS, are we supposed to keep the laptops from suffering some wear and tear? And the elementary school students? You expect third graders to be responsible for the laptops?
    They didn’t even give us the cases for free. See, the laptops were loans and the cases were extra; they cost $10 – and this year I’m in college, but my little sister tells me they got different cases, which cost $25 and the insurance is up.
    There’s an opt-out alternative, where you check out your laptop at the beginning of each schoolday and back in at the end of it, but of course teachers now operate under the assumption that you have laptop access at all times, so this inevitably creates issues.
    And yes good god yes they were easily hacked. My little brother is a budding tech nerd, and he found his way around all their controls and taught me, our sister, and all his buddies. The administrative password one year was the name of our school district.
    Oh, and the first year, they had this great idea where they erected a gate around one section of lockers in the locker room. So when kids were in gym class, they put all the laptops behind a padlocked gate. Well, of course someone broke into the gate in the boy’s locker room and took about seven laptops.

  6. I remember when I lived in Newcastle, and did volunteer work for a council funded venues. We were given net access on computers that had some networking sites blocked (email I think. Can’t remember the details at this distance.) You could usually find a way around the blocks, but the computers were clunky and slow and prone to freezing up at inopportune moments.
    Computers in Newcastle library had the same problems.
    When I used computers at the State Library in Victoria I encountered similar difficulties – one set of computers are designated for ‘internet’ access, another set are designated for email. On the internet computers, I found all I had to do to get into my email was sign in on Yahoo’s main page instead of the email home page. Simple. But the whole system is clunky and slow and annoying.
    Thanks to Rudd’s ‘computer for every school child’ policy, a whole generation is going to grow up knowing how clunky, inefficient, and wasteful government projects are. It’s likely to quickly turn into a very effective argument for small government, anti-bureaucratic types. Nice going, Kev.

  7. I’m all for it. My 18year old has just finished the HSC and I can tell you now, having a lap top would have made her life a hell of a lot easier this year.
    Let’s not buy into Today Tonight’s “youth gone wild” trope, eh?

  8. I suspect they know perfectly well that the students will get around the blocks – but they’re putting up the blocks to avoid liability.

  9. Princess Poophead, I’m not against the initiative per se, I just want to know that there are going to be protections in place for kids who might have their laptops stolen or destroyed by other kids– I don’t think this is a “kids gone wild” thing– it’s just an acknowledgement that bullying is pretty rife in schools.
    Also, noting that this scheme will be most useful to kids doing their HSC, I also have to wonder if it isn’t more useful to only give laptops to senior students simply because that means that they won’t be trying to use a four year old machine during the most important year of their schooling (with the added benefit that 16-18 year olds are more likely to take better care of their laptops, and are less likely to engage in bullying). That way, the computers may well still be useful to them when they start uni too.
    For kids in junior years, however, I think it would just be better to ensure that all classrooms are fitted out with computers as appropriate.

  10. Making laptop-ownership universal for pupils of a certain school or district is a fantastic way to turn them into vulnerable targets for thieves. One very well-to-do school in my neighbourhood in Auckland basically made laptops compulsory for all pupils from age 6 up (generally provided by the families themselves, it being that kind of area). Lo and behold, at least one small girl walking to school had a car pull up beside her and a guy tear her backpack off her.
    As if most people needed any more reason to drive their kids a whole two blocks every morning …

  11. Oh good grief. I find myself wondering which operating system they’re going to be putting onto the laptops – if they’re wanting security, they’ll be wanting one of the Linuxes or a Unix (or, let’s be honest, an etch-a-sketch). If they’re wanting compatibility with the workforce, they’ll probably be using Microsoft, and most likely Vista (since MS have this rather severe allergy to people being granted anything but the latest and greatest and most buggy of their current OSen). If they use any form of Windows, the system will be hacked within the first fortnight (I’m being generous here, and presuming the junior crackers are taking time off to do things like go to school and sleep); if it’s a Unix or Linux, it’ll take maybe a month at most.
    Either way, I can’t see the sense in saying “no, you’re not going to be accessing the social networking sites, no way, no how”. I’d be more likely to give courses on internet safety (Rule One: no matter what you put on the internet, and no matter where you put it, it will not stay secret) and teach safe behaviour on social networking sites as part of this. Acknowledge the internet exists, acknowledge it can be used by people who don’t have the kid’s best interests at heart, and teach the basics of how to spot such people from a distance.
    Meg Thornton’s last blog post..So I should be going "baaaa" about now

  12. Actually, I think that the computers are all going to run on Open Source software– at least, that was the plan a year or so ago, when they were first talking about it.

  13. I think this is in fact a great idea. Think what will happen!
    1/ Kids with a casual interest in computing will want to learn about hacking their laptop instead of “just using it”. A whole generation of hackers sporned!
    2/ They will learn all about co operation and community networks when they all put in to get a 3G dongle and then use that instead.
    3/ The various education dept people will learn that blocking services like FB, MySpace et al is a waste of time. (as @Trib reminds us “If you are looking for the best communication/collaboration services, check out what your IT dept BLOCKS!”)
    tomasr’s last blog post..Dirty days

  14. Bwahahaha! Good luck with preventing the kids finding an easy hack around this so-called blocked laptop. I’ve already thought of at least 3 ways to approach getting past it, and I only read this story 5 minutes ago, and I’m not a dedicated hackgeek.
    You’re being overly modest, but that prolly means Boychild would take about that long, and he’s only in 5th grade.
    I’m very concerned about the personal security / robbery issue as well. Why don’t they have networked desktop PCs with USBs to take home?

  15. I have to agree with Helen. PC’s are easier to maintain and upgrade. They are either about the same price as a laptop or cheaper and USB’s are more discrete and have less chances of being stolen/broken.
    Personally my idea of a school-tech utopia would be a school full of decent computers and a system set up for an IT/design tech class where students would have to put their own box together with components bought bulk by the government or school ( preferably school so the PT associations can have more direct say on whats purchased.) to reduce costs to everybody. And a couple of classes in IT devoted to installing and maintaining computer OS’s and software.

  16. Let’s not buy into Today Tonight’s “youth gone wild” trope, eh?
    Taught high school recently? ;p Some (not all) of them are right little blighters who I wouldn’t let near a computer that they hadn’t paid for with their own money and would be the ones that would ruin the whole laptop program for the kids who do do the right thing all the time.

  17. On that note, if they do have to pay for insurance, and if the insurance covers theft, and if your school is so stupid as to put markings on it that are easily removed (my school had a couple of goddamn stickers), you’ll have students selling their laptops and claiming it as stolen in order to make a quick thou. We had that, too.

  18. We had a spate of school robberies here a while ago where computers were stolen. We wondered at the time why the Ed Dept didn’t get bright green covers or something for the computers, so it was obvious that they were school property. They would need to do something similiar with school laptops so that they couldn’t be sold. Note, I’m not suggesting that the kids would necessarily sell them, most of them would probably appreciate having the laptop, but parents, friends, boarders etc all might see a way to make a quick dollar.

  19. No Purrdence, I don’t teach highschool, but as a single parent I do sometimes have to deal with the unexamined classism of some teachers who really don’t get that it’s often a struggle just to pay for uniforms. I also work in the welfare sector, and am aware of how disadvantaged many kids are when their parents can’t afford the technology that their peers have and I think it’s time the government recognised that. So at least they’re making an effort.

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