Take these tablets

Schools’ technology program needs wise control to succeed

Remember in school when a “tablet” consisted of wide-ruled sheets of pulp paper with an Indian chief on its cover?

 

Maybe that’s reaching back too far. But it’s never too late to reach forward.

The Richmond County School System is one of 118 school districts across the country to receive free electronic tablets from the telecommunications company Sprint. The company’s 1Million Project aims to put 1 million tablets in the hands of American high-schoolers.

If the students don’t have Internet access at home – and too many Richmond County students don’t – Sprint said it will provide that, too.

On Monday, 60 freshmen at Butler High School represented the first local cohort of students to receive tablets. That tablet group is expected to grow to more than 500.

As taxpayers, you should like the price tag on this project – free, at least for now.

As parents, you should like the aim of this project, which is to put helpful technology in the hands of students so they can more easily and efficiently pursue academics.

But for that aim to reach its target, strong oversight will have to be required.

If there’s one thing educators have discovered since introducing technology into the classroom, it’s that many students tend to know more about technology than the faculty. And if there’s a way to use a school computer for non-school shenanigans, a student can find that way.

That’s why this program should require drum-tight security. The tablets also should be subject to regular inspections by school officials to assure the tablets are being used for their intended purpose. Think of it as an electronic version of a surprise locker inspection.

The use of these tablets is backed up by a comprehensive school-system technology policy for how they’re supposed to be operated appropriately. It’s addressed to students, faculty and even parents. If everybody cleaves to that – the policy is available to read online (naturally) at is.gd/fm9Z9S – then the 1Million Project can work out as intended.

We mentioned earlier that the project is free for now. If it expands, it mustn’t break taxpayers’ backs. Disseminating smart technology to students requires a smart way to make it work financially.

When Los Angeles’ school district decided in 2013 to put iPads into the hands of every single student in every single school, the result was a notorious disaster.

But the Milpitas Unified School District, also in California, tried a similar plan in 2012 with cheaper Chromebooks – and an early realization that every student didn’t need one. They can be, and are, shared instead. The project moves forward steadily, and its ability to continue is measured carefully based on which schools could benefit from it.

All sectors of our community are being touched by Augusta’s growing cyber presence, and the field of education is a crucial component in assuring that the cyber industry succeeds here, particularly in growing an adroit workforce.

But that can’t be done entirely on notebook paper. At some point, technology such as tablets has to enter the picture – and making sure they’re used wisely to make students smarter. Let’s hope the Richmond County School System can help steer this tablet program to success.

 

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