A senior member of school staff recently commented that in the future “we will have to bite the bullet” and assume that all pupils will be able to supply their own smartphones or other mobile technology in order to make use of next generation ICT based lessons in schools. This argument was backed up by the statement that “40% of my pupils already have internet enabled phones“. This in one of the poorest London boroughs (feel free to draw conclusions).
Of course, there was no implication that the remaining 60% should miss out on portions of their education, just an implication that market penetration of mobile technology among children can only increase. In a sense I cannot deny that this is inevitable to a point, but nor can I deny the truth that during my time teaching I have observed more than a fair share children in schools without pens and pencils, coats in winter, or suitable footwear amongst other more essential items than a mobile phone.
My own eBook pilot makes no assumptions of a child’s background, and in any school – inner city, rural, or private – I would not begin to plan any activity or project that requires a pupil to have access even to television at home, let alone a computer, internet or a mobile phone. All of these items I still class as luxuries for the privileged, and despite commercial and government entities insisting that they are a part of everyday life, I would never take ownership of such resources for granted.
Of course, equality is (allegedly) not at the forefront of the coalition’s designs on Britain, and Michael Gove’s continuing plans to devolve power to headteachers and private interests means that schools will inevitably begin setting their own standards. Certainly many people are beginning to question the definition of the ‘free’ in ‘free schools’, perhaps next we should ask ourselves whether there is any difference between requiring a pupil to carry their own netbook, tablet, or internet phone to lessons and requiring a pupil’s family to pay a tuition fee or take a grueling entrance exam.
The other issue is the potential for a general lack of objectivity, and an inability to see the bigger picture when it comes to technology. Too many teachers associate the pinnacle of technology with Apple. Although they may have been the best choice at the time for my project, I am now seriously considering that there are better options on the market and that I was lucky not to over-invest in iPod technology. Unfortunately others fail to look beyond the brands that shout the loudest and so get lumbered with crushingly expensive hardware. A private partnership may soak up the cost of kitting out a school with iPads and educational Apple Apps, but founding a school’s ICT infrastructure on the most expensive hardware may damn its pupils into having to buy the same expensive devices to keep up with homework or other assignments, when they could be buying cheaper tablets and mobiles such as those that run Android applications.
After seeing the feeding frenzy of schools racing to build their reputations as technology champions, I ‘m realising more and more that there comes a point when we need to check that the foundations are still in place. And I would not run an eBooks project in a school without knowing that a librarian, with a specialist knowledge of books and children’s literature was on board.
Schools and senior management need to remember that there are children who would be better off with an apple to eat before we even consider telling them that they need an Apple to learn on.