Laptops are not the best solution to schools' needs

Citizens Online is campaigning for every child to have a laptop, funded by the taxpayer. I absolutely support universal internet access, but not this route to it.

Laptops have too many drawbacks. The are heavy, expensive, ergonomically unsound and very vulnerable to theft and damage.

The proponents for laptops for schools are making two perceptual mistakes.

  • They think of a computer as a thing that contains files. You need these files, so you need that particular computer. This is still true for many adults, but it’s not true in schools, where files are already held on a network. It’s also a poor match to childrens’ views of the digital world. They have grown up with remote hosting that clearly separates the data from the device: hotmail not email, LiveJournal not a diary, voicemail not answering machine, SMS not memo boards.
  • They see learning as a series of lessons that happen to a class, in a classroom. This biases them towards a technology which makes the room dual-purpose; laptops can be put away when not required. But because digital technology can control and administrate individualised learning, the requirement for students to always operate as a class is simply evaporating.

My perfect school would put its computers into large (120+) resource centres where students would spend approximately 50% of their time. They would work online under their own direction, lightly supported and supervised by dedicated staff.

Your school can deliver more access to more students at less cost with old-fashioned desktop computers. If you have extra money, it’s better spent on knocking through several old classrooms to make a good-sized resource centre that can be staffed more efficiently, or on upgrading the broadband connection into the school.

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