Imagine if America had Teacher Unions

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An Australian federal court just ruled for teachers in amazing fashion that should impact educational practice everywhere on earth. The court ruled that materials and tools teachers need to do their job should be paid for by their employer and not by the teachers.

Nearly a decade after my colleagues and I introduced 1:1 laptop computing to a few hundred thousand of Australian students for the purposes of project-based learning, programming across the curriculum, shifting agency from teachers to students, collaboration, and creative expression, the government of the State of Victoria discovered laptops and set forth a number of “transformative” and “revolutionary” notions of how they could use the most powerful technological tool of all-time, the personal laptop, as a way of teachers doing chores. There was no educational vision whatsoever behind the “Notebooks for Teachers and Principals Program” and subsequently as the “eduSTAR.NTP Program.”

What the state department of education did was urge teachers to purchase laptops through automatic salary education schemes of between $8 and $34 Australian dollars per month (approximately $6 – $26). More than 40,000 teachers and principals participated. Who wouldn’t want a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro for $26/month?

Teachers then had to do clerical work, report grades, attendance, etc… via the laptops. After about $20 million (AU) was taken from teachers this way and tens of thousands of educators got laptops, the Australian Education Union filed suit claiming that since the laptops were required by the job educators perform, their employer should pay for such hardware.

Imagine that? Teachers should have ample supplies and technology required to do their job provided for them like any other employee.

The Australian Federal Court sided with the education union and has ordered the State to refund the money educators paid for their laptops, PLUS INTEREST!

Check out just a few of the Education Union’s press release:

“We are pleased that the Federal Court found teachers should not have to spend their own wage to purchase items that are essential for their work. This is a win for our members and sets an important precedent.”

“Laptop computers are essential for teachers and principals. It is unreasonable for them to pay for resources that are a necessary part of their job,” says Meredith Peace, AEU Victorian president.”

“Teachers need computers to write school reports, respond to parent emails, develop and co-ordinate curriculum, and collaborate with colleagues. They do not sit in offices at desks, they teach in classrooms – so they need laptop computers.

“The AEU pursued this matter through the Federal Court because teachers and principals deserve the tools and resources that are essential to their jobs to be provided by their employer. To attract and retain teachers, we must provide standard professional tools.”

“We argued that even if the deductions were deemed to be authorised, they were predominantly for the benefit of the Department, rather than the teachers themselves.”

The union also asserted that teachers were being asked to purchase laptops in schools where students were provided them by the school/state.

“It is unreasonable to expect teachers and principals to pay for accessing their work computers. Students themselves in many schools have laptops under the one-to-one laptop program. Teachers are expected to engage their students in learning through digital devices and teach them the ICT skills they need to be successful learners in an increasingly digitised world, so they need a laptop,” says Peace.

A few questions?

  • When will American educators sue for the supplies, tools, and technology they purchase in service of their employer?
  • What are the implications for your school’s technology implementation?
  • When a teacher (or student) DOES purchase her own computer, should a school be able to restrict its use?

Congratulations to the Australian educators who spoke truth to power and won!

I’m of several minds on this decision, however for the following reasons…

Clearly teachers should use computers and if it’s a work tool, the court’s decision is correct.

I remain a staunch advocate for every child having 24/7 use of a fully-featured personal laptop computer. However, the Victoria laptop rollout was a vision-free clusters#ck in which none of the intellectual or creative potential of computing had anything whatsoever to do with the real or intended use of the laptops.

This is going to immediately cause problems for schools embracing laptops, even if the merits of this case are unrelated. This is because morons set education policy and anything associated with “laptop” is likely to now be viewed as toxic.

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