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Victorian Teacher Notebook Scandal

August 26, 2011 by richlambert · 73 Comments · Teaching

Australian teachers are respected around the world as high quality innovative educators. That is perhaps no more true than in Victoria, where education has benefitted from a forward thinking, inovation encouraging government and Department of Education (named DEECD in Victoria) over the last 5 – 10 years.

But after a change to a conservative government that has a very poor track record when it comes to supporting public education, Victorian teachers are slowly awakening to a very different landscape. Perhaps the most rude awakening has occurred by way of the latest notebook lease offer from DEECD.

Victorian teachers have enjoyed a fantastic notebook lease program since the mid-90s. It has run on a 3 year cycle, and offered a choice of the latest Mac or PC notebooks for a very minimal payment per fortnight. That has all changed this week.

Teachers on the latest leasing round were offered a very lop-sided looking choice. They could lease a new Lenovo laptop with great specs: 4 GB of RAM etc (you know the ones, those black beasts that somehow get bigger and heavier with each new model as every other laptop gets thinner and lighter) OR a white MacBook for $11.50 a fortnight.

Before you get angry about this fact alone, the real kicker for both Mac and PC users is in the fine print that no teachers read and hardly anyone seemed aware of: the new lease terms are for a period of 4 years. Yes, that’s right. The same laptop for 4 years. PC users may want to consider that as they conduct the regular ritual of making a coffee while waiting for their 3 year old Lenovo laptop to boot up, which is constantly plugged in because the battery only lasts 10 minutes before it needs a charge.

But, for Mac users in particular, these are the questions that come to mind:

-How is it that the same model Mac that is being offered in this round for $11.50 is being offered to teachers currently at $7 a fortnight? Especially seeing it has dropped $300 in price since the time of the last rollout.

-How does the department consider it ok to offer teachers an outdated computer that doesn’t even have the specs to run Apple’s current OS, for a lease period of 4 years? (imagine still using the current white Mac in 2016!)

-The Lenovo is only  $100 cheaper than the Macbook, so how does that work out to a price discrepancy of $7.50 per fortnight over 4 years!?

As you can imagine, conspiracy theories abound. The department lost its previous Mac loving secretary with the change of government, and many worry that the department techs, who have always tried to pretend Macs just don’t exist, are now having their way and trying to push them out of the system altogether.

TWO SIDES TO THE STORY

Today I have been on the phone to both the head of education at Apple and the head of the notebook leasing program at DEECD. Apple is furious at DEECD’s handling of their product. They would like to know the mysterious formula that shoots out a $799 PC at $4 a fortnight and a $899 Mac at $11.50 a fortnight. They were also hopeful that the department would take on their offer of giving teachers the option of a Macbook Pro for only a few dollars extra. (Apple had originally offered the Macbook Air but this was rejected by the department). From their perspective their product is getting shot in the foot. 22% of teachers signed up for the Mac option, but this dropped to 18% when full information about the cost and the particular model became more widely known. Indeed it is a testament to the quality of Apple products compared to Lenovo that Apple still commands 18% of the market at such an uncompetitive price.

For DEECD’s part, they are arguing that the price rise for the Mac is due to all the extras that come with it. It needs a VGA adapter (quoted on the phone as being ‘about $70′. ‘Um, try $30′ I said), a crystal case and a replacement battery factored into the cost. Why a replacement battery? Because Apple has been upfront with the fact that their battery only lasts 1000 cycles, or approximately 3 years. If you do a 4 year lease, you’ll need to factor in the cost of a new battery for every machine.

Why are we being offered an out of date white Macbook? DEECD say they rejected the Air because the screen size was too small (11″), there was no optical drive and no ethernet cable. They say they rejected the 13″ Pro offer because Apple offered it too late, and it would mean they would have to create a whole new image for those machines. (I’m no tech, but why would you need a new image when it runs exactly the same OS??)

Why has the cost gone up so high for the exact same model machine as teachers are already leasing for $7? My friend at DEECD tried to tell me its not the exact same model. Its a new model that has a larger hard drive and better graphics card. I told him he was being deceptive pushing that line, as the cold hard fact is that, commercially, it is a $300 cheaper machine than the one that was leased out in the last round. He then went on to inform me that the government has more heavily subsidised the Macs in the past to bring their price closer to that of the PCs. That is no longer going to happen, and that is why the price has shot up. Hmmm. Very mysterious indeed. If this is true, why were the Macs originally more heavily subsidised, and why are they now not?? I was assured by him over and over again that there is no conspiracy!

What do you think?

 

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73 Comments so far ↓

  • Ant

    And it gets better too. because of course functionality is important. The new Edustar software package includes Office 2010. Fantastic. But here is the small print. It will need to be authenticated via your schools network…. an activation that needs to take place every 45 days. So enjoy the functionality of that laptop when the end of year break comes around….. its longer than 45 days.
    Oh and just because it fun to pontificate. Will the students on the 1:1 program be as excited when their authentication runs out too?

  • Mike Parker

    (I work in a private schools IT department in NSW)
    Different models of any computer may require a different image thats because the parts are different and so you need different drivers to run the computer. The process of creating a new image, might not take that long if the first image was created and documented properly. But it still will take time because this image will be used on hundreds of computers.

    In the past apple has made it so that one image would work on multiple computers. As of today, I believe the new opperating system “lion” needs different images for the different models.

    The truth may be as simple as the macbook can use the old image from six months or a year ago with a very minor change.

  • Eugene

    In what other workplace are the employees expected to provide their own tools for the job. Teachers need to have a laptop, as much of their work is completed at home. All of their preparation, correspondence and reporting occurs with computers and somewhere along the line they have to actually lease or purchase their own equipment. The education department to be paying for these tools. There is a drive to get every student with a laptop but the people supposedly teaching them how to use these devices have to supply their own. Ridiculous.

  • richlambert

    Apple confirmed to me yesterday that the exact same image would work on the Pro. The Airs would need a new image, but in all the fundementals the Pro is essentially the same computer as the white Mac

  • jocko

    I have 4 of those new lenovos in my school at present and If any of them last 4 years it’ll be a bloody miracle. They are rubbish. My 3yo white Macbook is worth two of them

  • John C

    Dont worry about what Laptop Teachers are gettting, they still need to teach them how to use them. I Still see a lot of Teachers having trouble trying to add a printer let alone anything else. Then they expect them to Teach Students Technology. As normal the Goverment putting the horse before the cart. When I see more PD and time to do it, I will believe they have an affective IT solution in Education

  • PMuzza

    What I cant understand is why Apple would sell obsolete machines into a market as important as this one. The spin-offs of having teachers walking around in front of students (many of whom will be buying their own soon) must be huge! I would have expected Apple to have insisted that their fans in this field would be well catered for rather than disgruntled users of relatively expensive, sub standard machines.

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  • Bob

    I have two MacBooks – a 2.4 GHz machine and a 2.2 GHz machine. Both are running Lion and Windows7. Both are running fine.

    So what?

  • Anonymous

    Apple Notebooks for Teachers and Principals Program
    We have been in frequent negotiation with the DEECD about the changes to the pricing for the Apple Notebooks. We expressed our concerns about both the value for money and the currency of the Apple model available.

    The response from Erle Bourke, General Manager of Information Technology is as follows:
    Value for Money
    Both notebook platforms (Lenovo L420 and Apple Mac Book) are supplied with the eduSTAR software image (which includes a range of eLearning certified teaching and learning software), onsite warranty, battery replacement and damage/loss insurance. From a technology perspective both platforms are similar. ITD IS concerned about value for money and the fact that, from a teacher contribution point of view, the Apple device is not 2.87 times better than the Lenovo. However, in the Apple market there is no competition and the Apple Corporation dictates the pricing.
    Currency of the Apple Mac Book
    Apple continues to offer the Mac Book 13” to the education sector and is a contemporary device that complies with the Departments specifications. The Mac Book 13” is fully supported by Apple for the life of the product. The specification of the new Mac Book 13” is superior to the Mac Book that recipients currently have; with enhanced memory, hard-drive, graphics, adaptor, battery, operating system, protective case and is lighter. Apple did not consult the Department in regard to their unilateral decision to no longer offer the Mac Book 13” to the general public. However, I believe this is not a reflection on the technology but the implementation of a business strategy to move consumers onto higher margin products such as the Mac Book Air. The current round’s nominations have closed and the orders have been placed for 15,500 Lenovo and 3,000 Apple notebooks.
    Retail Pricing
    Comparisons with retail offerings are misleading unless all aspects of the notebook package are matched. For example, retail pricing does not cover battery replacement, loss/damage insurance and extended warranty conditions.
    Future Rounds
    The Department will investigate the feasibility of offering the option of higher specification notebook computers (which will be at higher contribution rates) in future rounds.

    I know this is not really the answer we wanted, however, you can always stop your laptop lease if you think it does not to suit your needs. There may be better deals on the horizon. We will keep you informed about any developments.

  • The Dark Snake

    How much per fortnight do the staff in the pay office, HR, Facilities Section etc pay for the computers they use?

  • Anonymous

    I am a teacher who has been given one of these Mac’s. Yes, I could have gone for a Lenovo, but all of my teaching is done on a Mac. I love Mac’s, and it is all I use, but unfortunately, this one is unusable. It takes approximately 5 minutes to write an email in outlook. When I am writing the with sentence, it is still writing the first. I timed it at over one second per letter.

    When the department were contacted, they told me that I can pay to have more RAM put in, but as they have given us computers with 2 x 1 gig of Ram, I would have to purchase 2 x 2 Gig.

    I can’t believe that they have given us a computer that we pay more for, and that won’t run the image that they have supplied us.

  • Tim Campbell

    I am teacher who took the new apple macbook during the Sept/Oct round. I upgraded the ram because I knew the hardware wasn’t good enough the run the software.

    So, with 4gig of ram, I thought everything would be ok. Yesterday, I couldn’t open ActivInspire, a program that is critical to my teaching.

    So, 3 weeks in and I’m starting to regret getting a mac (I had one in the previous round and it was a gem). Will they be offering pros in the next round?

  • Dan Martinez

    It’s no surprise that a backwards thinking Liberal government are trying to screw teachers. This latest trick to lock in teachers into a four year lease with a mac that is not longer being produced is absolutely disgusting.
    Here’s a little tip I got from my accountant. Buy your own MacBook Pro, claim the depreciation on it over the next two tax years then flog it off on ebay while it’s still worth something. If you sell just after tax time, it should only cost you a few hundred dollars and you will have the latest model mac every couple of years. This only works if you’re somewhat techy or if your school tech is willing to install all of your required software. Worth a thought.

  • james

    where to start, where to start…

    @eugune

    Plenty of other workplaces ask you to provide your own tools.

    Carpenters, Plumbers, Mechanics, Spray painters, tradies in general all provide their own tools. Your a teacher, thats your trade, bring your tools you require to class.

    I’m a technician for two vic gov schools and the l42o is perfectly fine for school use. It’s alot smaller than the previous r61 and l510 rollouts so no, thinkpads do not get bigger and heavier.

    I think the majority of whinging is coming from teachers who think that their school supplied laptop is for gaming/heavy use media rather than word processing , accessing students work and doing demonstrations on the IWB.

    There is a reason techs don’t like macs in schools. The department network infrastructure is all windows based.

    Apple is a company that does their own thing and wont follow a particular standard making them hard to support on a windows network. Macs are generally a pain in the ass because of their clunky bloated design that makes supporting them an unnecessary waste of time for most techs.

    I have more interaction with L420′s than the teachers do and if they’re treated well they’re a great, solid reliable business laptop. Keyword there is business. The l420 is not designed for personal use. You cannot expect the already underfunded department to give you all nice pretty $1500 laptops just because you want a high spec machine for personal use. It’s just not going to happen.

    I do agree with the 4 year lease as being a little bit cheeky, however the laptops will last and even if they don’t lenovo has agreed to offer a warranty for the full term of the lease so overall you have nothing to whinge about.

    Unless you were stupid enough to opt for the macintosh. If you happened to decide the 2gb of memory was worth putting up with for a white coloured laptop you deserve all the misfortune you come across.

  • Paul

    @james,

    We looked at a laptop for my wife (a teacher) and 2 kids that are in school and we could get decent machines that will do the job just fine at a good price. As a bonus they wouldn’t take 3 years to boot up every time they sat down to use them.

    But we can’t get EduSTAR put on them if we buy our own. We sort of HAVE to go through the school or department’s programs.

    I want my wife and kids to have decent machines up to the task and would happily buy them myself but it just can’t happen.

    The Lenovo L420 is a piece of rubbish btw. Sorry James. You can do far better for the same price in terms of reliability alone. The ram is cheap, the drives are exceptionally slow. Win 7 runs like a dog on them unfortunately. Vista wasn’t much better.

    Business (and school) machines need to operate at a decent speed for the sake of productivity. The specs are ok but the cheap ram and drives are just letting the whole things down. My daughter is expected to edit video on her Lenovo and my old Celeron 2.2 ghz machine is faster just because the components are solid, the drives and RAM are of decent quality and the OS isn’t stressing the dated components.

    I have replaced the RAM on my Wife’s machine, cloned the drive onto a quality piece of hardware and now it’s a lot better than it used to be. The system itself leaves a lot to be desired but at least it boots in a decent amount of time and windows pop open at a decent rate now.

  • richlambert

    Well the inevitable has happened. With the MacBook not being made any more, DEECD had been forced to offer Victorian teachers in this year’s round of leasing the MacBook Pro. They have price it at $15 a fortnight. This is almost the exact deal that Apple offered them 12 months ago and that teachers around Victoria almost begged to be given the option to take up. It strikes me as being terribly short sighted that the department stuck with the really crappy deal on the white MacBook, a model that had already ceased production, even though they knew they would have to offer the Pro less than 12 months later. Now we have the astonishing situation of some teachers having the white MacBook at $7 a fortnight, some leasing almost the exact same machine for $11.50 a fortnight, and some leasing a MacBook Pro for only $1.50 a week more at $15 a fortnight. What a crazy mess.
    Meanwhile, last year’s rollout Macs are so under spec in RAM that we’ve all had to fork out for extra RAM just to get them to function at even the most basic level. They can’t even run their native OS that they were shipped with, let alone run Windows 7 in Virtual Box in order for teachers to use the pre-historic Victorian reporting software. Let’s be clear, Apple are to blame here as well. What were they doing even offering machines with 2 GB of RAM when they knew they wouldn’t cope with the latest OS? The old white MacBook shouldn’t even have been on the table as an option for the Department to choose from. They also offered the Air which would probably have ended up even worse as it had a smaller hard drive and the same amount of RAM.
    Anyway, at least teachers finally get a MacBook Pro option. But that doesn’t help all those poor souls who started a new 4 year lease last year…

  • Martine

    Rich, thanks for the info you provide on your blog. I have to sign up for my new notebook by tomorrow, and really wanted to get another Mac – my current one (my first experience of Mac) has been fantastic, and I was sad to think that the next one was going to be a disappointment. However, I would not go back to the Lenovo. Anyway, got to the end of your blog and discovered that I am very lucky compared to my colleagues who got new Macs back in October – I will get a Macbook Pro…Thanks – this information had not been provided to me, so very glad you had updated your blog.

  • Tony

    It’s 2013, but the DEECD is still screwing around with teachers who want to use Macs. In the latest Notebook round/cycle, a MacBook Pro (MD313 – which will be replaced soon), is priced at $17 a fortnight.

  • richlambert

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for that bit of news. I was wondering how much they would charge this time around – it just keeps getting more and more expensive for Mac users! I’ve been able to provide staff at my school with our own leased Macs for a similar price, but importantly it’s a 3 year lease and we have full control over the model we buy for them.
    Another important piece of news to note is that the department recently updated their deal with Microsoft to cover putting Office onto privately owned laptops if they are used by staff or students as their school machine. In other words, this now allows staff members for the first time to bring their own computer in and be able to have Microsoft Office installed. Still not the full EduSTAR image, but most in my experience don’t rely on that anyway. A small step forward to what some would say is the certain future of BYOD for all staff (and students for that matter)

  • Tony

    It is quite disappointing that teachers are being forced to shell out so much for what is surely end of life technology (MD313 is scheduled to be replaced soon). I worked out the difference between leasing the Lenovo L420 and the MacBook Pro ($4 vs $17) and the difference over 4 years (assuming it is a 4 year lease), is over $1300, which is more than enough to purchase the MacBook Pro MD313 at any Apple store.

    Extremely shambolic on DEECD’s part.

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