Feb 032013
apple seek to dominate schools and education

Are laptop computers really essential to educating our kids? Fairfax media reports this weekend that the Australian Federal government’s laptops in education scheme is near collapse.

What stands out from the story are the quotes from educators;

Chatswood High School principal Sue Low said her school was providing laptops to students in year 9 but the uncertainty over future plans was unsettling.

“Laptops are now just as much of the culture of education as are pens and paper,” she said. “To not have certainty over how we will administer laptops to our students is very disruptive, and we need that certainty as soon as possible.”

Some schools have come up with their own solution to the problem. One NSW school has made arrangements with a private provider under which parents can buy a laptop for $1341 or rent-to-buy for $90 with monthly payments of about $50.

That computers are important is not a debate, but are we putting to much emphasis on the tools and not enough on what education is trying to achieve?

One educator said a decade ago that they could teach an 80 year old to use a computer in a few hours, but an illiterate 15 year old may be lost for life. This is truer today than it was then.

Computers are flooding our lives with information and the tools to gather that information are intuitive and don’t need 12 years of school to master.

What we are all need are the critical and mathematical skills to filter out the dross and misinformation that floods onto our screens.

Old and young have the belief that if something is on the web, then it must be true. The biggest challenge for parents and teachers with the web is convincing kids that cutting and pasting huge slabs of Wikipedia into an assignment isn’t research.

Not that this is just a problem in the classroom – plenty of politicians, business leaders and time poor journalists have been caught out plagiarising Wikipedia and other websites.

In recent times I’ve been to a lot of ‘future of media’ events where the importance of ‘data journalism’ has been raised. What really sticks out listening to these is how poorly equipped both young and old journalists are to evaluate the data they’ve gathered.

This isn’t just a problem in journalism – almost every occupation needs these skills. We could argue those skills are essential for citizens who want to participate in a modern democracy.

Computers, and coding skills, are important but we risk giving students the skills of today rather than giving them the foundations to adopt the skills of tomorrow.

We also risk making technological choices that risk education departments, schools and kids being locked into one vendor or system.

Giving every child a laptop is not a replacement for them having the critical, literacy and numeracy skills to participate in 21st Century society.

  3 Responses to “Do kids really need laptops in school?”

  1. My children started a new school this year that don’t use laptops in the class from one where every child was issued a computer. At the new school they were issued with a fountain pen for their working day, mobiles were to be kept in their lockers the whole day and computers were available in the library if needed.

    The girls love it. So many of their old class mates were hiding behind their laptops and doing things other than work. Now they are engaged with the teacher, each other and the lesson.

    As digital natives, they don’t need to be taught to use a computer, they have grown up with them. They use their computer (including the digital versions of the textbooks that came with the hardcopies) at home for homework and for engaging with their social networks (I think they used to be called friends).

    We and the media, who by no means play a passive role in this, seem to demonise computer use by kids. My children’s’ computer activity is supervised and healthy. Their engagement with social media is healthy and has expanded their world view as they make friends internationally and engage in forums, story publishing and photo posting. I understand though this isn’t always the case.

    I agree with your assessment, focus on the message, not the medium. Learning is not about computers, the computer is only a tool, like pen and paper. If the lessons are enriched by the use of computers, if the learning is better as a result, then by all means. But the limited amount of research done so far hasn’t confirmed this yet and in the meantime the resources directed to acquiring and managing laptops, especially inferior (ie affordable) ones could be better spent on more teachers or better pay for teachers.



    • Thanks Matt, you’re right however to be fair to the government one of the underlying reasons for introducing laptops in schools was to address disadvantage for kids who don’t have access to computers at home. This is a fair point which I think could have been addressed in other ways.

      You pick up an interesting point about the demonisation of computers by the media. This is a much more subtle issue and one worth exploring, particularly in light of how computers and the net are destroying the media’s business models.

  2. In another 5 years when online education becomes the norm as blended learning has shifting towards online, laptops or any electronic device would be a must (http://www.knewton.com/blended-learning/ (50% of high school would have online learning in US by 2019)(that link has the 6 basic types of blended learning where the last 2 types are mostly online). Technologies are shifting each & every industry – more on that including thriving and dying careers where some of the dying careers are traditional retail, manufacturing assembly jobs, postal service workers, office and administrative workers, telemarketing and door-to-door sales can be found under the humble blog http://rohitthomas.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/technologies-including-facebook-changing-industries-business-models-and-lifestyles-completely/. Can also check out http://www.pbs.org/america-revealed/episode/4/ high end manufacturing which is what the US has gone towards in the last 20 years. And so, robotics are taking over jobs compared to humans (it did with the financial institutions & retail sector as well-self service revolution which also includes ATMs and this started 2 centuries ago-from US to UK & then rest of the world). It’s the same with the education world where virtual reality would be used and that includes social networking integrated with cloud computing as well as search (more of the integration-search,social,apps,cloud computing,gestural technologies,3D printing all found under the blog).

    In the marketing world, the traditional marketing still exists but it’s over-taken by online marketing, namely search & email. Social is just coming up while search, social, apps, cloud & various other technologies have already integrated. To do SEO or SEM or SMM, which are search engine optimisation, search engine marketing, social media marketing & other types of online/internet marketing, you need to know HTML, CSS, Javascript, SQL, etc. The systems, softwares and even hardware just tools though knowledge needs to be there before that. What my parents studied 30 to 40 years ago at college/unis for biology/medicine is what students study these days during their higher secondary education because that’s how far the field has advanced (which includes combining the medical software into it these days). On the financial or engineering or tech sides, MS Excel and Access are the basics and advanced version of those uses VBA programming. If want to get into the analytical areas, these are the technologies needed along with learning statistics and mathematics. My sister who works as a Business Valuation Associate for Deloitte uses Excel as her basic tools though at uni and at school, she learnt Statistics as well as Pure & Business Mathematics while my bro who works for HP as a Business Intelligence Consultant uses SQL as his basic tool though he works on Cognos and studied Electronic and Communication Engineering (he studied SQL and others as well).

    Journalism-blogging,news,publishing worlds-they are taken over by tech. Apple, Amazon have changed it all as mentioned under my blog and this blog WAS USED under another blogging article of yours. Is it enough just to use MS Word? That’s also a technological tool that helps with essay, report writing and various other things. To communicate with the mass, need to know a bit of marketing (includes advertising)-search, social, apps, etc as mentioned above.

    So, education these days have changed like it has in the past as mentioned above with the examples of my parents (1 an anaesthetist who graduated from Royal College of Anaesthetists and Surgeons, Ireland while another a pathologist who graduated from Royal College of Pathologists UK). Students do need these devices BUT AGAIN AND AGAIN, they are just tools aided in applying their various fields in various areas (like statistics and mathematics applied in business, engineering, medicines & so forth or even humanities or arts applied in marketing, journalism, visual arts & so forth).

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