Image source: screenshot of iPad for Education website
Image source: screenshot of iPad for Education website

My daughter is in grade 4 of Port Melbourne Primary School now and recently as a parent I’ve heard about planned start of a new ICT (information-computer technology) program next year. It’s good I thought, the school is taking up and will teach the kids useful skills. However then more details about the program uncovered and rather than being happy I am getting angry.

1:1 iPad program: BYOD as long as it is iPad only

Yes it is called “1:1 iPad program“. Note it isn’t “computer literacy” or “computer education”, or “use computer in school”. It is about one specific brand from one specific company. Don’t get me wrong, I have deep respect to Apple, they produce decent devices (albeit quite expensive), however in my opinion schools isn’t the right place to promote any (even the greatest) private company for parents and taxpayers money.

As a part of justification of the approach we (parents) among other things were presented with the results of survey:

iPads in schools survey - devices at home
iPads in schools survey PMPS – devices at home

If you have at least very shallow knowledge about marketing researches or psychology such survey doesn’t smell good – it is clear example of framing. There is no option “tablet”, rather you have iPads, where I bet many participants (children) placed all tablet devices.

My job is creation of web sites and mobile apps and most of my customers are private companies. Even there, they understand that their consumers have very different devices and try their best to make website working fine on multiple platforms, so it can be used by wide range of customers. When you develop a mobile application for wide audience it must be compatible with at least iOS and Android and preferably Windows.  There are different researches about Apple, Android and Windows market share, but the most favourable for Apple shows that around half of market is owned by competing platforms and with new devices shipment Apple’s share is around 30% only.

 

Tablets Global Market
Tablets Global Market, (c) Tech Chart of the Day via Business Insider

So making iPad only program effectively excludes (or in best make participation harder) for very significant chunk (50-70%) of the audience if we hope that existing devices will be used.

If we are talking about buying new device specifically for a child, iPads are definitely not the most affordable option, with entry level price of $350+ (for iPad Mini) whereas entry level Android or Windows device can be purchased for under $100.

Why iPad only

I understand that there are some merits for schools and Department of Education to go with a single platform (iPad): it is a easier to write and administer the program if all the apps and experience will be the same among the students. You don’t need to find and select only multi-platform apps, if you order custom apps you don’t need to have multiple-platform version, explanations how to use is easier, however I don’t think that these arguments are enough to justify this iPad only approach. It is solving the problem at the expenses of parents.

Why iPad only is wrong

  • It is not inclusive, students and families who prefer other platforms than Apple/iOS feel like a second sort citizens
  • It makes additional unnecessary pressure to family finances  – you have to buy a new device (and not a cheap one) rather than re-use existing one. Some families simple can’t afford to spend several hundred dollars per child and cheaper alternative isn’t possible. Hence we widen a gap between students from more or less affluent families straight in primary school
  • It doesn’t reflect the realities of modern multi-platform world
  • It also raise the question, why state body promotes so heavily private company brand and is there any vested interest here (I hope that it isn’t true).

How to do it right

I don’t oppose ICT education in primary schools, I think it is step in the write direction, but it should be done correctly, not this ugly iPad only way- the program must be multi-platform. Students should be able to use wide range of devices: tablets (Apple, Android and Windows based) and ideally netbooks/laptops.

Yes, develop multi-platform program may be harder and need more efforts, but as a public institution it is the only right way to go rather then locking the students and parents into one specific brand, put financial stress to families and increase the gap between students.

Additional references

iPad 1:1 program description on Port Melbourne Primary website – //www.portmelb.vic.edu.au/parent-info/11-ipad-program/

 

 

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