Tablet PCs. The next big thing for schools?


Tablet PCs for children. Screen wipes as standard.

Elonex has recently caught my eye, mainly because the 7″ touchscreen Android tablet is on sale in Toys R Us amongst other suppliers for around £89. Although I haven’t managed to get my hands on one of these little beauties yet, I will assume that while lacking some of the bells and whistles of its contemporaries such as the iPad and Galaxy mentioned below, it will be perfectly adequate for the average primary school.

I’ve already mentioned some of the benefits of the Android or Apple App tablet in this post. Buy a £90 laptop and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be impressed with its performance, but a tablet with a set of compact mobile apps running educational, curriculum based software, could well be the answer to the problem of the, frankly, rather shonky IT infrastructure that exists in schools – particularly primary schools.

Issues that the tablet could address are:

The boot/ login time for school PCs. Especially over a wireless network, I’ve had to wait 10 minutes or more for a whole class to get into Windows on a cut-price PC, let alone logged onto the web or a piece of software. A tablet OS is generally far more streamlined.

No moving parts! Screens smudged with grubby fingerprints and snot can be fixed with a wet wipe. Lost laptop keys are more of a problem.

Storage. You could stow at least three of these to one netbook, let alone a laptop.

Portability. A child can carry a tablet PC around and use it sitting at a desk, standing up, or in the playground – a versatility not really available with a keyboard/ mouse setup.

Of course Elonex also make the more traditional eBook reader, with a black and white digital ink screen. However I ‘d stake good money on these not taking off in schools other than those that buy a handful for the library. The reason? Cost and convergence and flexibility. School pupils have a tremendous variety of work in their lives, more so than the vast majority of working adults. This is evident from the despair that I see on the faces of work experience pupils presented with a task that will occupy them for their whole day. Schoolchildren buzz from one lesson to the next task like the editing on an American drama series.

A tablet PC can be cheaper than an eBook reader and yet be far more versatile in the functions available, combining web access with educational software and electronic books and periodicals. The dedicated eBook reader may have the advantage of an electronic ink screen, but a black and white display is no good for modern textbooks with colour images and photos or children’s picturebooks no matter how sharp the contrast is.

It would be a sorry situation indeed if the libraries quickly adopted the eBook reader in a rush to appear cutting edge, only for these innovations to be cut down as backward thinking and limited in use in comparison to the functions offered by tablet PCs. Elonex themselves seem to acknowledge this with their own colour screen eBook readers, abandoning eInk in favour of technology that (at the risk of sounding snobbish) actually looks as though it’s from the present day.