My piece yesterday about Wellesley Public Schools considering adopting a mandatory iPad policy drew a lot of reactions, both from readers who felt the move would help the schools better prepare their students for the future as well as those wary of replacing fundamentals with buzzy hardware.
The following email is from a graduate of Beverly’s public school system:
While I am definitely for modernizing schools, it has to be done on an equal opportunity basis, especially in public education. What Wellesley is doing is socially irresponsible even if families can afford to engage in the program. The bottom line is that public schools are required to provide equal opportunity education at no more cost to the citizen than the city tax funds bring in during a given fiscal year. At the very least, the school districts should be making sure that plans are in place for students who demonstrate real fiscal need and that includes students whose families are engaging in real financial planning and for whom a $300+ iPad is not in the budget no matter how well-to-do they may appear.
Frankly, I went through school with little to no technology until middle and high school when basic word processing and excel skills became a must for college and I had to learn all the fundamentals by hand before even being allowed to translate it to even a basic, scientific calculator. I do feel I am better off for having had to do that and today, I can still do complex math in my head faster than on technology.
There is no definitive need to impose technology on classrooms especially at a young age such as 10 years old in fifth grade and more importantly, it should not be done at the expense of individual families who may or may not be able to afford the technology.
As far as pushing Apple products, schools should also not favor one brand over another and should instead be pushing the best presumed value for both students and the schools while providing in budget options for students who cannot afford to supply their own devices.
One reader asked me if I would had the same concerns if, instead of iPads, Wellesley went with Kindles or Nooks. And yes, I would have: I’m primarily an Apple user myself, but I think that no matter what brand you choose, these kinds of strategic decisions have wide-ranging impacts, both on education quality and consumer buying habits for years after graduation. As NPR notes, Steve Jobs was a pioneer of this long-term marketing strategy, while others have noted that the Gates Foundation’s Windows boosterism has some important side effects.
I don’t think there’s one “right answer,” since eschewing all vendors ultimately means eschewing technology altogether, but it’s good to see that these issues are being discussed and debated.