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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3093


Senator HAINES(10.25) —This report by the National Advisory Committee on Computers in Schools is long overdue. The fact that it is overdue is responsible, partly at least, for some of the comments in the two dissenting reports. I think we all agree with the comment in chapter 3 of the report that in Australian society schools should provide students with knowledge of the electronic information technologies and with skills in their use, and that this should be a very broad spectrum knowledge, not limited to the science and mathematics faculties but developing into all faculties. That is because the new literacy in the 1990s and the next century will be computer literacy, and it should not be limited only to the two faculties which seem to see some sort of proprietorial aspect to computerisation.

The two dissenting reports concentrate predominantly, as Senator Baume has said , on the four pieces of hardware which have been selected. The Committee went into considerable detail and went to considerable effort to look at what was being done in the individual States in Australia before it made any recommendation. From contacts that I have in schools in various States, I know that there was concern that this would not happen and that the most populous State, New South Wales, would have an unnecessary amount of say in the Committee 's final recommendation about the hardware that it approved for school use. That has not happened. The Committee has taken note of the decisions that have been made, in particular, by the South Australian, Western Australian and Tasmanian governments to recommend the BBC computer system for government school use. The non-government schools in those States have had a tendency to follow suit.

That action was made necessary by lack of attention to the need for a national program for computer technology by the previous Government. There is no question about that. Each was forced into investigating the best sort of hardware for that State simply because the previous Federal Government had closed its eyes to the need for an assessment of computer technology at a national level. As a consequence, we got a plethora of recommendations from State to State. Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania adopted the BBC, which, interestingly enough, is one of the few computer systems that were specifically designed for teaching purposes. Perhaps my own bias in that line is enhanced by the fact that I believe Australian schools probably have more cultural connections with something that emanates from Britain, with the appropriate software to match, than with some American software, with the peculiarities of language that Americans use. The Microbee 16 and the Apple II were the computers that were accepted by the New South Wales Government. To the best of my knowledge, the Victorian Governmment was still playing around with its investigations at that stage.

One of the dissenting reports complains about the fact that 16K models of computers have been excluded. They have been excluded for a fairly good reason. Basically, the Committee's report has come down in favour of the BBC Acorn, with or without a couple of component support systems, the Microbee 64 and the Apple II and Apple IIe. Given the problems that the Committee had of combining the already determined recommendations of the different States for computer systems in their States, I think it did all that was possible under the circumstances. Of course, it has added a rider that support should also be provided for professional development and consultancy activities directed at other machines recommended by participating systems and that the list of recommended microcomputers should be regularly reviewed in the light of changes in technology and school needs. As I have said, given the problems facing the Committee, it is to be commended on its recommendations and the detail in this report.

Question resolved in the affirmative.