Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District launched its $1 billion tablet initiative in an effort to give an iPad to every student in the district, according to the Los Angeles Times. But no more than a week later, last Tuesday, almost 200 of the district’s high school students who received iPads — namely students at Roosevelt High School — had found a way to hack through software website blocks.
This early setback is a sign that the entire idea of the iPad as a facilitative educational device is a big financial waste. Not only is this an issue because the iPad is widely viewed as an entertainment gadget, but also because this technology cannot compare to traditional teaching methods.
According to the Times, the iPad rollout has three phases. It’s only in its first phase, which is a goal to distribute more than 600,000 devices. But after students hacked the system to freely surf the web, LAUSD halted home use of the iPads. Though district officials are taking strides to correct the problems, none of the methods constitute long-term solutions. For one, recalling the device sounds good, but there are also problems regarding responsibility left unanswered.
What happens if the iPads are damaged or stolen? Who repairs or replaces them? How much will it cost and who will pay? Moreover, the district doesn’t seem to be acting on solid statistical data that demonstrates a real correlation between iPad use and test scores or educational progress. Instead of distributing all 600,000 devices in the next few years, the district should have done a trial run with just a few classrooms.
Furthermore, advances in technology do not always need to be incorporated into curriculum, as they do not necessarily help improve teaching methods. In fact, they could become more distracting to the kids.
According to NPR, the Roosevelt students explained that the trick is to delete personal profile information to open up freedom to surf, send tweets, socialize on Facebook and stream music on Pandora.
Renee Hobbs of the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island told the Times, “They were bound to fail … Children are growing up today [with] the iPad used as a device for entertainment. So when the iPad comes into the classroom, then there’s a shift in everybody’s thinking.”
The students’ attitudes toward the iPad are at the root of the chaos. Sure, iPads have the ability to run simulations and models, accommodate students with vision impairment, provide educational materials for English learners, create new ways for teachers to monitor progress more efficiently and a litany of other advantages. But they also have Candy Crush and Temple Run, access to YouTube videos and Facebook, which aren’t necessarily great educational tools.
In the digital age, it is undeniable that tech competency is important, but too much reliance on technology, such as the iPad, could lead to children devaluing the presence of paper and pencil. New technology is updated and outdated in a flash, but a book doesn’t change overnight — there’s a reason why we’ve been using it for thousands of years. Nothing is wrong with the old textbook, pencil and paper.
There are also many more tech options to choose from if the district really wants to upgrade — alternatives such as SmartBoards and podcasts that will not rely on a device with so many entertainment apps. The focus of a $30 million deal with Apple should be educational guidance and supervision from college students nearby, volunteer mentors who will foster a love of learning on a personal level with every student. Now that’s a worthy cause to replace the personal relationship with a device marketed primarily as an entertainment tool.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English.
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