February 20, 2014, 8:22 PM — The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is engaged in a massive effort to put an iPad into the hands of every student in its district. I am all for this. In fact, as the district has stated, this isn’t so much about education as it is a civil rights issue. “We are already 13 years into the 21st century,” the district says in its site. “Access to technology is not a luxury; it’s a basic necessity.” But a large percentage of the LAUSD is low income, the ‘have nots’ in our digital divide and the school district wants to change that. “Schools have a responsibility to help [students] get access to the knowledge and tools they need to be on the same footing as those students who do,” says the official statement about the program. This makes perfect sense to me. These kids are growing up in an information age. They should have access to information. They should have access to the free education that is available through technology. They should be learning the digital skills they will need to survive in their own future. This is a school district. It is tasked with that job. But it is taking a lot of heat for trying to do that job. Yesterday, the parents of that district staged a protest against the effort, saying the money should go instead to school repairs. The news media jumped all over the program when some students bypassed some controls – from home – and accessed social media and streaming music. Do a search on LAUSD and hacking to see how many outlets called the teens hackers.
“No student has hacked into a device, compromised security, nor has any wireless system failed to function,” explains the official statement on the LAUSD Web site. “In truth, some enterprising high school students were able to switch the settings on their tablet in order to access non-educational content outside the District’s firewall. Of the 20,000 tablets that have been provisioned to date, less than two percent were impacted.”
It seems reasonable to me, having watched the tech industry learn from its own mistakes for a couple of decades, that there would be some learning involved in such a massive deployment of technology. In fact, that is why the LAUSD broke the initiative into phases to give itself the opportunity to learn from its mistakes. But, in the public discussion, every misstep raises the question of “scrapping” the expensive plan.
I applaud the LAUSD’s efforts to get technology into the hands of every student in that district. It is not an effort to transform education through the use of technology, merely one to bring the tools kids are learning to use into the 21st century.
I have seen classrooms transformed by the use of tablets though: Students engaged in creating projects that demonstrate what they have learning. Kids choosing to play math games over other activities -- much better way to learn than flash cards and drilling. And I’ve seen teachers spending less time trying to find reading material that matches their lesson because they can simply create their own and publish it for their students.
I can pick up my phone and ask it any question I have and get a thorough answer in seconds. I want my kids – all students who will grow up and vote and work in our country – to have access to that sort of learning. How can we expect to create a work force that can create technology if we don’t give them access to it?
I do live immersed in technology so I might be revealing a bias when I ask, how are these students getting their questions answered if they don’t have access to the Internet? What are they learning? Why would we be opposed to this? (Except if maybe we were suggesting that they should get Android or Windows tablets or perhaps Chromebooks instead.)
Yet, people are upset about this, calling for a halt, calling it these initiatives the iPocalypse. I think those of us who are immersed in technology and who want a future full of educated people who will vote intelligently and be able to do the jobs we want to hire them for, need to start speaking up for these kids.