I'm really disappointed and angry. The reason? It has been officially announced that South Australia's world renowned centre for innovation and training for ICT in education, Technology School Of the Future (generally referred to by most teachers as TSOF) is to be closed and moved from its base at Hindmarsh. I found out via a colleague and the teacher grapevine on Wednesday, had it confirmed via professional association email lists on Thursday and then on Friday, this article appeared in a sidebar on a page in the Advertiser, Adelaide's only daily newspaper.
Outrage as school plan is ditched.
XANTHE KLEINIG - EDUCATION REPORTER
Principals are furious the Technology School of the Future has been scrapped.
South Australian Primary Principals Association president Glyn O'Brien said there was an "outcry" over plans to replace the school at Hindmarsh with online services and video conferencing.
The school was run as a part of the Education Development Centre and, while it had no permanent students, provided a physical base for school groups to visit for programs such as robotics or digital electronics.
"The centre was set up to give kids the really cutting edge technology and amazing computer programs - the sort of things primary schools can't afford to buy," Ms O'Brien said.
Replacing the school with a program, staffed by nine teachers travelling around the state with a "bootload" of technology, would be inadequate, she said.
Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith announced this week that professional development for teachers would be delivered by video conferencing and 18 "eTeachers" would be appointed to develop online activities for students.
Opposition Education spokesman Duncan McFetridge said the school, established in 1989, was being closed by "stealth". "Teachers come from all over the world ... for some reason they decide now they will try to do it online," he said.
An Education Department spokeswoman said that physical attendance at the school's courses had dropped 400 per cent over four years.
In retrospect, the signs that this was on the State Government's mind have been there for a while. The final statistic quoted at the end of the article is the result of budgetary cutbacks, a user pays policy for facility and expertise hire, a reduction in consultants available to schools and other services once available to DECS schools for free being priced out of the range of classrooms and schools. I've blogged before about TSOF and its challenge to stay relevant to the massive changes occurring on the web but the solution in the minds of those in charge seems to be to simply pull the pin. That, in my mind, is extremely short sighted and ignorant.
Here, we have a world class facility, proudly showed off to Queen Elizabeth II a few years back, supposedly ready for the scrapheap just to help balance the state budget. The plan to replace it with videoconferencing and online courses only is just ludicrous. Sure, it's important to develop those online capabilities but with a teaching force here that averages close to fifty years of age, their learning needs also need to be taken into account. If we want educators capable of delivering ICT rich curriculum for our 21st Century students, then scrapping the physical headquarters of technology innovation makes no sense at all.
TSOF has been important to my own professional development. I've attended courses, I've been part of Quality Teacher Programs, I've taken classes there to use the facilities and to showcase their work to others, I've presented there and attended quite a few conferences as well. I've worked closely with TSOF staff as well on research grants, the Web 2.0 Showcase, consultancy on interactive whiteboards - where will all this sort of stuff take place?
The South Australian education community deserves better than this. More resources should be going into this important facility - instead, we feel the bitter sting of the axe carefully spun into a press release strategically timed to coincide with the end of a busy, frantic and tiring work year.
My next step is to personally email the Premier and the Minister for Education. I think and hope they've underestimated the backlash coming their way.
Yesterday, I read this great post from Warrick Wynne that summed up things rather well. Warrick writes:
It’s hard enough sometimes to get through the day without having to plumb the depths of the future.
That’s the thing sometimes isn’t it? One of the reasons that the big picture and visionary is so often hijacked by the immediate and the now.
That's the thing - a shortsighted "let's scrap this expensive centre and promise something that sounds futuristic" for a few savings today and lose sight of the big picture that TSOF was originally founded and funded properly for in the first place. What's next?