Starting next school year, one Beaufort County, South Carolina school district will allow its public school students to take their school issued devices home with them after the school day. The devices have cost this district in particular about $5 million, and in other states' school districts such as Los Angeles in California, up to $1 billion. Is it reasonable to send the pricey electronics home with students?
Sarah Bowman of The Island Packet writes that several states have or hope to implement programs and budgets to provide its students with new technology in the form of tablets such as iPads and new computers in the hopes of improving academic performance and the encouragement of learning inside the classroom. The intention of such programs is to upgrade schools technologically overall, but few have addressed students availability to the electronics after leaving school premises at the end of the day, encouraging learning outside the classroom and school environment as well.
"Allowing students to take their mobile devices home lets us create a 21st-century learning environment that extends beyond the walls of our schools," district technology services officer Ross Hendricks said.
Beaufort County plans to charge students a data usage fee of about $20 for the tablets at the start of the next school year. It also plans on giving the devices currently used by older students to younger ones to allow them to grow more comfortable with them. Older students in middle and high school will then have even newer tablets purchased for them.
The usage fees that will be charged are hoped to cover daily maintenance like normal wear and tear from usage.
From prior experience, education officials are not worried about students damaging the tablets, meaning the funds originally intended to repair or replace devices can go to purchasing new ones.
The discussion of an opt out policy has been discussed by officials for parents who don't want their students to bring home the devices or pay the fee. The district hopes that support and resources will become available by the implementation date to aid families who need help so students who don't have access at home can get it.
Not every American home has internet access, so for many students the devices will be useless if they're family doesn't subscribe to broadband services. The tablets are wifi enabled and there an increasing number of free wifi hotspots throughout cities, but that doesn't necessarily resolve the problem for these students.
In addition, there's no hard evidence that the devices actually improve local test scores, albeit a district survey in Beaufort county showed that students were more engaged and turning in more work.
"Technology has revolutionized not only the way teachers teach, but how students learn," Hendricks said.