Portable perils

There is a great deal more to successful learning, inspiring children and good education than the latest technology, says John Ronane

Believable benefits

In my opinion there are certain benefits to tablet use in a 21st century ‘thinking school’ although I believe them to be practical rather than ground breaking in terms of advancing learning.

The portability of a tablet and the relatively long battery life enable quick access to digital media at any point in the day without any scheduling of an IT suite or lap top trolley and without the need for cables and electrical sockets in close proximity. The mobility of a device can enable learning both inside and outside of classrooms at an instant.

Obviously size of device is an issue and tablets can enable a pupil to ‘carry around’ everything all in one small storage unit. In an ideal situation it is rather like having all of your exercise books with you without having the heavy rucksack and in addition you can carry the library as well!

Tablets are also becoming more common place and low cost, in comparison to larger devices such as lap tops and standalone computers, in schools where budgets are increasingly tight this is an important benefit.

Potential pitfalls

Whilst tablets have the potential to enhance learning there are also several drawbacks and potential pitfalls. Portable devices are heavily reliant on a fast broadband service and in a rural school such as mine, this just isn’t the case. Furthermore, where the school may have a good broadband connection, children’s homes may not and this compromises access and makes achievement outside of school inequitable. 

Unless pedagogical approaches and curriculum are designed to accommodate such personal and autonomous learning as tablet use may manifest, then the benefits will not reach fruition. In my opinion, a 1:1 ‘vision’ may compel school leaders to have a very narrow view of learning and to dismiss other forms of teaching and learning in pursuit of the tablet based classroom.

I am under the impression that it is much more difficult to monitor what portable devices are used for particularly if they are taken out of a school setting. The benefit of autonomy and portability is at best balanced and at worse out-weighed by the potential for a pupil to access harmful and inappropriate material or to use their device to propagate harm.

Choose wisely

I think that the iPad from Apple appears to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of tablets and that when one purchases another brand there is almost a sense of being a ‘second class’ citizen such is the power of the Apple image.  I imagine that other more reasonably priced devices are equally as good as an iPad but don’t have the same kudos.  I would be looking for a light, relatively robust device with appropriate functionality and a good warranty. In fact a less ‘fashionable’ brand would probably reduce the risk of theft or resale.

Safe and secure

Within school, we have built e-safety into our curriculum and discuss it with children in lessons and in assemblies. Our older children have had specific lessons on e-safety and we ensure that we have some posters emphasising the need for caution in our IT room. The local community police officer comes in and does a talk each year with year 6 and this is always well received by the children. Nonetheless, the biggest factor for us is the overall expectation on behaviour that we instil in our children and the ethos of the school that we create.

Outside of school is more difficult. We do try and work with parents and have regular workshops about supporting children at home that includes discussion on internet use and supervision. However, one has to be careful not to make assumptions about families from different socio-economic backgrounds and one also has to be wary of trying to impose a set of ‘middle class values’ that in themselves may be flawed.

A distant desire?

At this time, I know that not every school can implement a 1:1 tablet scheme, because we certainly could not. The cost is too great and in our won situation the lack of a good broadband speed and reliability make it impossible to rely on such devices. Schools in big cities with bigger budgets and infrastructure may be able to but for many schools it is not a possibility.

Personally though, I hope that 1:1 schemes are not future as I think that there is a great deal more to successful learning, inspiring children and good education than the latest technology. I would love a tablet for each child just as I would love a wallet on the back of every chair to put their water bottles, pencil cases and dictionaries in so that the tables were clearer and the children could remain hydrated. Whilst that is a luxury beyond my budget, then tablets will also remain a distant desire rather than a possibility.

John Ronane is Headteacher Ickford Combined School.