iPads in Education and the Road Ahead for Edubuntu
Greentown School Kindergarden iPads
Earlier this year, I was a bit surprised to see that a school is planning to buy iPads for its entire Kindergarden. I’m interested to know how that went and how they’re using those devices. The school dipped into it’s long-term savings to buy those iPads, and to me that sounds risky. If I were a parent at that school I don’t think I would approve of the school risking long-term security to provide technology to kindergarden kids. The article I link to states that the iPads are bought because it aims to improve reading skills. I’m pretty confident that it would make at least some difference, but I’m also confident that it doesn’t justify the price and risk associated with it. Also, how does the school manage the apps installed? Are there tools for that (I’m honestly asking)? Can educators monitor scores? The child’s progress? Do the educators receive sufficient training on these tools? Who helps when things go wrong? The cost of iPads doesn’t end with just the price of the devices and the direct maintenance costs. Educators have to change the way they teach. They have to learn how to provide education via a new medium and redevelop some of their materials. When I first read that article I was thinking of all these things and wondering if that school could really justify buying them.
$18.2m Fort Bend Independent School District iPads
Today I stumbled across a website for students who are against their school board spending $18.2m for an iPad roll-out. The school board is rolling out iPads while their traditional computing IT infrastructure is aging, reportedly the school still has some outdated technology in place, such as Windows 98 machines. The students are making the case that money would be better spent upgrading their current infrastructure, like upgrading all their machines to Windows 7 and deprecating all the old hardware that can’t run it. I agree with them, it would indeed be an improvement on buying a bunch if iPads, and that investment is likely to also last a lot longer than the iPads will.
While $18.2m is a lot of money, I think it’s the tip of the iceberg of what’s being spent on iPads in schools and I can’t help wondering if it’s the best way for schools to be spending their money, especially considering the doubt of whether the use of technology actually increases grades. In my experience educators tend to think of computers as magical devices that will do a lot of the teaching for them and give them more time to focus on other things, but the reality is that it’s rarely the case.
The Case Against Technology in Schools?
I suppose it’s starting to sound like I’m trying to build a case against technology in education. I’m not. However I do believe that spending that kind of money, especially for very young kids is a waste. They have much more important things to do, like playing. I can’t imagine how learning to read and do basic algebra can possibly be better for kids on iPads than interacting with your real life teacher and your classmates around you. These kids have several years ahead of them where they can learn how to be office drones and good little consumers, why put that on them now? I’ve come across teachers and parents who believe that their kids need to start as early as possible in order to give them a competitive edge and to get them “in early”. I can’t predict the future, but I’m pretty confident that your kids will be completely fine if they learn about computers a bit later.
So why am I bringing all of this up?
Well, I’m not really trying to convince anyone of anything in particular, but I do think people should be aware of some of the current trends that are at least somewhat concerning. I also think that people should think about this, because I remember being in school and getting angry myself when I came across things in the system that just completely sucked and wondering… “isn’t there anyone out there who really cares about this!?”.
I’m also thinking of solutions, because I can’t help doing that. I’m wondering of ways we could make Edubuntu a *lot* more better for schools. So far we’ve been pushing out a collection of the best available free software we could find every release and as a project it’s getting quite stable and we’re getting quite good at doing what we do. I also think it’s time we step it up, have an official, supported Edubuntu device. Have good management software where you can choose which software, ebooks, courseware and other tools are installed on which device. Have testing tools and feedback tools that are easy and secure to use. Make better use of the Ubuntu Software Center’s support for additional add-on applications and build an eco-system for people who develop software for education, free software and not. We’re a small project and just keeping our current work going is already just about as much as we can carry, but we’re going to have to grow the project drastically if we’re going to develop something that is an appealing and interesting alternative to these iPads that people are so happily sinking money in to, often money that they don’t really have. I also want to see a good alternative that provides a solution using free software. I have some more details on all of this to follow, but I thought I’d keep this blog entry shorter so that I can at least get it out.
I’m going to be presenting some cases for big changes in Edubuntu to the Edubuntu Council soon and I’m going to try to get us a lot of help for this. If you’d like to get involved in any way, please get in touch! More details will follow soon.
Good observations. A rather cynical marketing ploy by Apple has resulted in many schools being suckered into sinking huge investment into Apple kit which is notoriously locked down, allowing schools to use only apps and software ‘allowed’ by the great Apple beast at a cost. If we believe tablets are the most apt technology for kindergarten kids, what about evaluating other devices, eg Android? What about evaluating whether the money could be better invested elsewhere – eg in better staff-pupil ratios, or in materials. I can’t help but think that many schools are going down this route with eye-closed to the longer term ramifications, and reinforcing the idea that kids are consumers not creators. Surely in light of recent announcements from the likes of Michael Gove, the Royal Society and Google’s Chair we should be encouraging kids to become creators not consumers by teaching them how to get behind the glossy interface and into the guts of the machine and software.
Very interesting post. I would be glad to give you a hand if you consider an experimentation in the Quebec public schools ;-)