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Ultranet ultimatum: schools told pay up or lose it

Jewel Topsfield (via SMH) | June 28, 2013

The school Ultranet project was dogged from the start by inadequate planning, cost blow-outs and failed tenders.
The school Ultranet project was dogged from the start by inadequate planning, cost blow-outs and failed tenders.

The Victorian government's $180 million schools IT experiment - intended to transform the way students learned - will end on December 31, with schools forced to pay if they wish to continue using the Ultranet next year.

The education department has signed a $2.8 million contract with NEC to provide the troubled school intranet for another six months to give schools time to plan for the future.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said the Ultranet - promised by the former government in the lead-up to the 2006 state election - had been a ''dreadful waste of money'', blowing out to three times its original budget.

It is used by only 4 per cent of the intended 1.5 million teachers, parents and students.

Many teachers said it was clunky and slow, did not reflect real online experiences because it was a closed platform, students were constantly forgetting their passwords and other software was easier to use and more flexible.

''I think the time has come to put it out of its misery humanely,'' Mr Dixon said. ''The department's role is to provide options and advice and allow schools to choose a system that suits their need.''

However Australian Education Union state president Meredith Peace said she was disappointed schools would be asked to pay from next year if they wanted to use the Ultranet to communicate with parents.

''This will create real problems, particularly for smaller schools and those who don't have the financial capacity to buy what they might want to use,'' Ms Peace said.

''Whilst there have been significant issues with the Ultranet, the government has never demonstrated any commitment to it and cut all suppport to schools to assist with implementing it. In a sense there is no surprise use is low and now they will dump the whole thing.''

The Ultranet was hailed as the computer project that would revolutionise state schools.

The intention was for parents to use it to check their child's attendance records and monitor academic progress, students to submit their work online and teachers to share curriculum information and provide regular student reports.

But it was dogged from the start by inadequate planning, cost blowouts and failed tenders, culminating in the cost growing from $60 million to $180 million.

A scathing Victorian Auditor-General's report late last year found the Ultranet had failed to deliver promised benefits and had been shunned by schools.


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