iPads in schools

Fraser Spiers remarks, in a review of the Google Nexus 7 tablet:

My experience with two years of iPad in school is that the iPad can cover 99% of everything we want to do with a computer in school… the iPad can replace the computer suite

I think the radical nature of his observation has to do with the replacement of the desktop computer in dedicated labs—the iPad is already widely proposed and increasingly adopted as an assistance to learning for pupils outside the computer suite.

Viewed close-up, this seems like a good thing. iPads are generally cheaper,  more reliable, and easier to get to grips with than traditional PCs, are portable enough to be used across teaching disciplines, and make a wide range of software very easily available.

But imagine that, ten years ago, someone had proposed:

  • that in future, schools in the UK and elsewhere would buy all of their computer hardware and most of their software from a single American company;
  • that software for these computers could not be used with hardware made by anyone else, never mind with other operating system platforms;
  • that software for these computers could only be obtained through the company that made the computers, and that installing it would require entering a contractual relationship with them;
  • that these computers could not be programmed natively using the computer itself: prospective application programmers would first need to buy another, more expensive computer from the same company, enter another contractual relationship with them, and in most cases also pay them;
  • that GNU-style Free Software would be forbidden from running on them;
  • that the company in question was known to have designed this environment quite deliberately and had a record of squashing attempts to work around its limitations;
  • and that these computers would be used as a standard teaching platform across all disciplines, and would also be the platform on which computing as a subject was taught to children.

How would that have sounded?

2 thoughts on “iPads in schools

    • Yes, there is that.

      It’s not right to characterise this as dropping principles in pursuit of a passing fad though, is it? From the point of view of any individual school, the “iPad approach” should have concrete advantages over a lab full of PCs that offer nothing in subjects outside the lab and not a great deal more within it.

      Someone else asked whether this scenario was really any worse than the traditional situation in which pupils are only taught a limited range of applications skills on Windows-based PCs. That seems like a fair question.

      Maybe it’s just that the old way is widely accepted as a bit unsatisfactory, while the new way has disadvantages that I’m disposed to find particularly striking but that many other people don’t seem troubled by — which makes me want to talk about them more.

      Advocates of free software, and people with a preference for choice and variety in computing, tried and largely failed to do anything about Microsoft as an effective monopoly platform. Is it possible to do any better this time around?

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