Rachel Buchanan, senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education, said the expectation that parents purchase devices was also spreading from secondary level to primary schools.
“It used to be at senior level, but now students as young as years 5 and 6 are participating,” Dr Buchanan said.
Dr Buchanan said the cost to parents of technology in the classroom went beyond the purchase price, and included charging the device and paying for lost or damaged devices.
Neil Selwyn, professor in the faculty of education at Monash University, said the use of technology in class was inevitable, given its ubiquity in society.
“Devices in the classroom now is just a given,” he said. “Everything is run through devices, so students have to have them.”
But making parents pay made it more likely some children will be left out, Professor Selwyn said.
“Some families can’t necessarily afford to have Wi-Fi at home, let alone buy a laptop for their kid at school,” he said.
Gail McHardy, Parents Victoria’s executive officer, said the cost varied significantly between schools and that school councils had to remain mindful of what families could afford.
Many families, particularly in regional and rural Victoria, struggled to cover the cost of a device or multiple devices for their children.
“Most secondary schools now expect all students to purchase a laptop,” Ms McHardy said.
“These laptops generally only last a couple of years before they start to slow or not even work and therefore there’s a requirement to purchase another in a couple of years.”
Ms McHardy criticised schools that lock parents into buying from one supplier, potentially denying them an opportunity to get a cheaper device elsewhere.
Coburg High School is one of a number of government schools in Melbourne that requires each student to purchase an Apple MacBook, at a cost of more than $1500.
Principal Stewart Milner acknowledged the devices were expensive, but said the educational benefits each machine provided over a number of years justified the up-front cost.
“This is a device that lasts four or five years; most students who got them in year 7 still have the same device in year 10,” Mr Milner said.
Devices were also lent to families who could not afford to buy one, he said.
The school does not have textbooks, instead using an online portal, and Mr Milner said it was likely the cost of buying textbooks over four years would be comparable to the cost of a MacBook.
Most Victorian schools have a “bring-your-own-device” policy, rather than specify the type or brand of device.
Sustainability engineer Karen Hovenga’s daughter attends Richmond High School, which has this policy.
Ms Hovenga purchased a second-hand laptop for about $400.
Richmond also has a no-textbook policy. Ms Hovenga had to buy only two novels and stationery when her daughter started year 7.
“It’s partly around the burden on families,” Ms Hovenga said. “The school said if we are going to insist that they buy laptops then we are not going to insist that they have textbooks.”
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.