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Tablets And Education: Dream or Reality?

Textbooks_currentWithout a doubt, teaching our children to operate in a digital world is a good thing.  Education that utilizes digital devices is a great way to acclimate children to their future lives, cultures, careers and workplaces.  

What would be the cost of equipping a digital classroom with tablets?

The FCC has produced a report that shows that this model may be closer than we realize, with a projected 2% outlay for the switch.  While I applaud the FCCs efforts, I think their dream may still be a few years away from being our reality.  You can view the FCC report at the bottom of this post.

Below are my concerns with their cost structure and analysis:

  1. There are no viable tablets on the market that cost as the FCC suggests, $250.  By viable, I mean tablets with strong software support, ease of usability and a plethora of new skills development apps and features.  These fictional or futuristic $250 tablets will need to be fairly ruggedized and must come with cases that are equally strong. Look at any kid's knapsack to see how tough these must be.  This tablet doesn't yet exist at this price point.
  2. There is a real licensing barrier.  Most text books last 5-8 years in many schools, whereas digital books at least in their current licensing will likely need a new license every year for every new student.
  3. There is also a very real infrastructural cost.  Schools must now not only ensure proper and protected wifi across the campus, but at least 30 accessible of outlets (not just along the walls) in every classroom.
  4. Tablets, at least at current, don't look like they will last more than three years at the most with daily use.  This four year refresh rate is a pipe dream, particularly with daily use and frequent trips in a backpack.
  5. The suggestion that tablets for every student will replace the need for a computer lab or a computer terminal in every room is ridiculous, at least for the next 5-10 years.  For the foreseeable future, most real productivity happens in a desktop environment.  And I would love to see public school libraries try to figure out wireless printing synced to 2000 tablets.  PCs aren't going to go away with the introduction of tablets, so we can't budget them as replacements.
  6. Tablets are also going to need accessories.  Keyboards, pens, chargers... all of these will be lost and damaged and will need replacement.
  7. In an informal survey of about 15-20 teachers I have found that almost all teachers (in my limited surey) do not want their students to have access to tablets or the internet in the classroom for the majority of their learning time.  Learning requires focus, and tablets are a welcome distraction to many if not most students.  And it will be quite some time before tablets can replace workbooks - this would require a far better stylus interface than any sub $400-$500 tablets currently offer.
  8. The tablet market it still in it's early phases.  Massive software and hardware developments will take place over the next five years.  It would be fair to suggest these updates will make today's best and brightest tablets obsolete in about 2 years.  This means that the cost of the actual hardware is likely double of that stated in this report, as hardware refresh rates will be far higher while the technology experiences the fast iterations of growth common to all new markets.

That said, I would love my children to start learning on tablets in 7th grade, along with a curriculum in coding and design.  There is no reason our kids are graduating from high schools with a better knowledge of chemistry (a fairly specialized field and science) and artistic composition (at least one two years or art) than computers.


FCC report below: