My daughter's possibly useless school laptop

Some years ago, Kevin Rudd, then the opposition leader, made a promise to deliver laptops to all senior high school students:

Kevin Rudd with laptop

Since that time he has been Prime Minister and been deposed, but the Labor party, still in power, have maintained his vision. Yesterday my daughter, in year 10 (there are 13 years in Australian schooling, starting with Prep, then years 1-12), received her laptop.

Now, I’m all for learners of all ages having access to the best technology which supports and facilitates their learning. Technology for its own sake, however, leaves me cold.

But this seems to be the case here. This laptop program, officially known as a 1-to-1 program (1 laptop for 1 child), no matter how noble its reasons, has been poorly implemented. For one thing, the laptops aren’t insured outside of school, which means we have to cough up a year’s insurance (you can’t insure for a shorter period), even though my daughter will be handing hers back before the end of this year. Her school has acquired 173 laptops, but no charging stations or trolleys, so students are expected to take their laptops home each night to charge them. Students who ride bikes (such as my daughter) or who take public transport, are naturally worried about the safety of their laptops.

The laptops will not replace textbooks. Students will still be expected to have their huge textbooks, and lug them between home and school. This is a hugely wasted opportunity. I’m not sure (and as far as I can tell, neither is the school) what the laptops will be used for, and how they will enhance student learning. The days are long gone when laptops were seen as new and exciting technology. You can pick up second hand ones very cheaply now, and probably ones more powerful than these school laptops. (In fact, you could probably buy a decent but oldish machine for the cost of the insurance of these new ones.)

Maybe a teacher (or a politician) once had a vision of a class of bright eyed children, each sitting with his or her own laptop… but so what? Where’s the pedagogy? Maybe these machines will just be glorified typewriters, and in the couldn’t-be-bettered words of Gary Stager, used for: “…making PowerPoint presentations about topics you don’t care about for an audience you will never meet.”

Let me be quite clear: I love technology, and I think the educational possibilities and potential are enormous. But just putting technology in place is not, in itself, educationally sound. What this program needs is an infrastructure to support it: for example wikis and school-based chat, digital textbooks, access to collaborative software (out with MS Word, in with Google Docs), robust and fast networking (that is, open up the laptop, and it automatically and quickly accesses the school intranet), digital art and music software, well-trained and enthusiastic teachers, and so on.

Here are a few interesting reads:

3 thoughts on “My daughter's possibly useless school laptop

  1. I’d like to think that programs like this — that deliver technology without a corresponding change in pedagogy — will begin to fall by the wayside as students bring their own devices to the learning experience. Or, even better, that approaches to instruction in school will begin to improve and incorporate the technology more centrally and intelligently. But for now, without being overly cynical, it seems that technology is more of a tool for political point-scoring than it is a tool for learning. I’ve argued many times that instead of providing technology that will be outdated in four years, schools should provide the best network money can buy (which will still be outdated, but less quickly than a computer) and the best IT support money can buy, and let learners bring their own devices (and give vouchers or other discount opportunities for those with less money to buy technology).

  2. It’s must be your daughters school… my school gives out laptops to everyone in year 9, they are constantly updated, our teachers give us work to do on them and they know how to use them, we are trained to use them and other softwares, they are good, sturdy machines and what’s best, is we get to keep them at the end of our schooling.

  3. Great post! I love to hear the parent perspective on this, and I totally agree with you, although, many schools who were none the wiser were led to believe that they had to purchase these laptops/netbooks for each student, and so many were scrambling to find ways to manage them (bear in mind that the funding didn’t cover a lot of the support costs).
    Our approach was much like rtalbert’s idea that schools should invest in their core infrastructure so that it will be able to support the load when students start to bring in their own devices.
    We are now prepared and initializing a system where the students can do just that: Use the ICT device that they feel most comfortable with. We are now suggesting iPads as the most flexible learning tool, because they allow for intuitive learning and creativity. Some of the iPad apps allow the user to determine how the iPad will function; there is a whole new world available with this tool. The other reason why we suggest the iPad is that we assume that at some stage your child will ask you to buy them an iPad anyway, so if you are going to have to buy one you may as well get double the use out of it. I take it that you are a supporter of the iPad judging by the links you have posted.

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