Education chief warns on "digital natives"

Von Julian Bajkowski

Ask an enterprise CIO what the single biggest IT challenge facing their enterprise is and the answers may be SOA integration or dealing with vendor consolidation.

Ask Dr Richard Eden, the CIO of Education Queensland (the Australian state"s Department of Education), and the answer is very different: it"s your children and very soon they will overturn IT in your enterprise.

Addressing education IT managers at the State of the Education Nation in Sydney last week, Eden warned educators that enterprises will soon face what he terms "digital natives" - the first generation to go straight from the cradle to computer literacy.

"ICT will become the first language for this generation of students. There will be massive reform and transformation...we are going to have a hard time keeping up," he said.

Eden claims the major issue now confronting educational authorities from the rise of so-called digital natives is that many teachers, educators and business managers come from a generation which learnt technology later in life, whereas the current generation takes ICT literacy for granted and expects their educators and employers to deliver accordingly.

To foster the coming change, Eden said Education Queensland is now in the process of implementing minimum IT infrastructure standards across its 1300 schools which currently use 120,000 PCs, produce 5.8 million e-mails a day and consume 2.7 terabytes worth of Internet access per month.

"My thrust is to drive scale as a strength [not a weakness]...we mandated ICT benchmarks for schools so there is adequate IT infrastructure across all schools," he said.

The shift also entails moving schools from merely being equipped with PCs, LANs and Internet access to developing, integrating and interconnecting learning and administration systems across the state.

"We are into integrated systems, not just student management systems: everything I need to run a school [and everything I need to integrate and manage them across the department]. There are not too many applications that can do that...there are a lot of products [from vendors] but no real base," Eden said.

Education Queensland also faces monumental effort in terms of identity management and is building a student registry with "unique identifiers for each person" that will span grades from pre-primary to matriculation to enable better student performance visibility and consistent standards state-wide.

The task is no mean feat with 470,000 digital natives currently enrolled in the state school system, which accounts for about a quarter of Queensland"s budget expenditure.

However, Eden"s strongest advice is about ensuring IT is seen to deliver at the management table - and why IT managers must educate CFOs to survive.

"You have to link ICT to learning [and performance] outcomes: otherwise how else do you go back to Treasury? If you don"t, ICT gets seen as an expense, not an investment."