Jewel Topsfield THE AGE June 19, 2013
The disastrous $180 million Victorian school intranet could be scrapped at the end of the month prompting fears that months of student work and reports would be lost.
The four-year contract with NEC to run the troubled network has not been renewed days before it expires on June 30, with a decision yet to be reached on its future.
Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said the government was committed to protecting the Victorian education system from the “Ultranet debacle”, which he said the Auditor-General had confirmed was “botched from conception to implementation by the former Labor government”.
Mr Dixon said the Ultranet had already cost Victorian taxpayers at least $180 million – three times its original budget – despite being used by only 4 per cent of the intended 1.5 million teachers, parents and students.
“While it is unfortunate that current negotiations are now public, we will continue to work towards extracting whatever value we can for Victorian schools from this failed Labor program,” Mr Dixon said.
Ian McKenzie, the principal of Alkira Secondary College – one of 18 schools to pioneer the Ultranet – said he had a teacher desperately archiving material from the Ultranet to ensure it was not lost.
“What about the student work sitting there, the teacher observations … I’m scared what might happen to all the information on it,” Mr McKenzie said.
“The blood, sweat and tears that has gone into the Ultranet and the work teachers put in – it’s soul destroying. I have to face parents who took me on face value when I said: ‘This is the best thing since sliced bread – every school is going to be using it in the future.”
Troy Moncur, the leading ICT teacher at Nichols Point Primary, has started an online petition urging Premier Denis Napthine and Mr Dixon to save the Ultranet.
He said 52 schools now used the Ultranet to provide parents with fortnightly updates on their child’s progress instead of generic outdated report cards in June and December. Four thousand reports had been published on the Ultranet in the last week alone.
“Staff are worried about the stuff they have put up – photos, comments … if it’s going to be terminated at the end of the financial year that wipes off 18 months of history of kids’ work and activities. We are not sure what to do.”
NEC Australia spokesman Heath Caban said he believed the Ultranet had a role to play in helping Victoria to achieve its goal of delivering world-class education. “NEC Australia is working with governments across the globe, particularly in China and the Middle East, who are interested in adopting the Ultranet,” he said.
The Ultranet, promised by the former government before the 2006 state election, was designed to provide a state-wide secure network that would enable parents to view their child’s timetables, school work, academic progress and attendance and teachers to share curricula.
The project was dogged from the start by inadequate planning, cost blow-outs and failed tenders. A disastrous training day in 2010, which left 42,000 teachers unable to log on when the system crashed at 9am, also delayed the rollout of the Ultranet in schools.
A scathing Victorian Auditor General’s report late last year found it had failed to deliver the promised benefits and had been shunned by schools.
The audit also revealed serious “probity lapses” surrounding the tendering of the Ultranet, with the budget expected to blow out to three times what was first intended in 2006.
Victorian Auditor-General Des Pearson said it was difficult to understand how the Ultranet went ahead when the Education Department was advised the project should cease or be delayed.
He recommended the Education Department review its internal tendering, probity and financial management practices in light of the serious issues identified by the audit.