Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tablets for Canberra High School Students

Canberra goes to the polls in a few weeks time to elect a local government. If reelected, the governing Labor Party has promised a tablet computer for each of 6,000 Canberra high school students, at a cost of AU $17.2 M, over four years. There are better alternatives.

The tablet proposal works out to about AU $2,800 per student, which appears expensive. There are now folding touchscreen laptops about the size of an A4 pad, for under $500. These are suitable for older students.

However, is issuing standard devices to students educationally useful? There was a previous Australian national program to provide a computer for every high school student and have been laptop and tablet programs for students in other countries. The best known of these programs was the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC). Such programs have not been shown to significantly benefit education and may have done some harm, by diverting resources from other educational initiatives.

An alternative strategy for Canberra would be to ensure that educational resources are available on the range of devices students have at home and school. A small fund could provide for disadvantaged students who cannot afford a $500 device. More could  could then be spent on training teachers for the Australian Digital Technologies Curriculum, using the CSER Digital Technologies Courses and the Inspire Center.

Funds could also be used to allow some of Canberra's teachers to work on new materials for both Technologies curricular, for senior students.

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