Let me just preface this post by saying that in the school district where my daughters go to school, the budget cuts have been so severe over the last few years that the distract has closed one school, increased class size, done away with substitute teachers, and furloughed paid teachers just to keep the doors open. So it boggles my mind that other school districts are shelling out millions to purchase iPads, in some cases, one for every student in the school. I have to wonder if in the long run, these schools will have the upper hand — educationally and economically — over schools (like mine) that are not investing in new technologies.
Take, for instance, Roslyn High School on Long Island, where administrators handed out 47 iPads in December to the students and teachers in two humanities classes, according to the New York Times. The iPads cost the school $750 apiece (for the 32-gigabyte model with a case and a stylus), but the aim is to have students use them in class and at home during the school year to replace textbooks, improve communication between students and teachers, and replace paper for homework assignments and tests. The school district hopes eventually to provide iPads to all of its 1,100 students.
Is this the wave of the future for education? School administrators from New Jersey to California laud the positive impact of the iPad for teaching kids. I mean really, is there anything you can't do with an iPad? Want to visually explore the elements in the periodic table? There's an app for that. Want to interactively study world maps? There's an app for that. Want to identify constellations (during the day/in the city/when it's cloudy?) You guessed it, there's an app for that, too.
But others are not convinced that the iPad is worth the investment. Some parents and educators have raised concerns that schools are rushing to invest in these devices before their educational value has been proved by research. With a base price of $500, just one iPad is a big investment for many schools. And don't forget the theft, loss, and damage factor that will continue to drain the budget down the road.
And what about the theory that kids are already spending way too much time looking at computers, televisions and cell phone screens? Spending eight hours a day at school staring at an iPad may be fun, but it may not actually help kids learn and retain information in the same way that a real life experiment or model would.
Still, these concerns aren't slowing down the sales of iPads for schools. New York City public schools recently ordered more than 2,000 iPads — at a cost of $1.3 million — for teachers and students. More than 200 Chicago public schools have applied for grants to purchase iPads. The Virginia Department of Education is experimenting with a $150,000 iPad initiative that would replace history and Advanced Placement biology textbooks at 11 schools. And six middle schools in California are teaching the first iPad-only algebra course.
What do you think? Are iPads the answer to our country's ailing educational system, or just the latest flash and fizzle technology to hit the market?