My education on wireless technology in schools
Wireless technologies are really getting around, aren't they? It's hard to go
anywhere without seeing them in use. Just walking down the street yields glimpses of
any number of wireless technologies, from walkie-talkies to cell phones to pagers to
wireless personal information managers. It's almost as if we are living in a (drumroll,
please) Wireless World.
It's hard to imagine a place where wireless technology wouldn't be put to good use,
given the many advantages it affords. So when I was pitched recently by a rather large
company on its deployment of wireless technologies in schools, I thought, "Great, why
not?" After all, why shouldn't schools in this country have the same technology
available to them that businesses have? Isn't education at least as important as
I would have been content to go on thinking this way, with heart-warming visions of
elementary school children busily working away on their laptops under a big oak tree at
recess, if I hadn't spoken to an actual teacher about it. My sister teaches speech
therapy at a small school in Farmington, N.M., and I excitedly brought up the idea of
this kind of advanced technology being introduced to the education market.
Now to say that she turned me around on this one is an understatement. At first I
couldn't believe, let alone understand, why she could possibly see a problem with
getting kids started on technology at an early age; giving them a leg up in an
increasingly technological society. I see things a little differently now.
She explained to me that while she thought children should be learning about
technology, there were many better things than wireless LANs and notebook computers on
which the money could be spent. With the current state of schools in the United States,
she couldn't imagine shelling out thousands of dollars per student to set up this kind
of system. With that money, schools could afford to hire more qualified teachers and
pay them salaries that are commensurate with the important work they do. With money
like that, schools should be addressing some of the basic shortcomings of the
She told me that too often she sees schools using computers as surrogate teachers,
denying children the type of individual attention they need. In addition, the computers
are often misused, and the Internet is difficult to view as an entirely wholesome
experience for grade-school kids.
Finally, my sister shed some light on the way technology vendors prey on schools,
viewing the education market as a seed market for future sales. The companies will
discount products to public schools as an investment in the future, then spin the whole
thing as a public relations stunt, telling everyone who will listen about
their "dedication" to the education market.
Well, that was about all I needed to hear. I had gone from thinking it a good thing
to bring wireless to yet another market to being embarrassed at how little I understood
about education. I went back to read the pitch that I had been sent in an e-mail
message, and laughed at how ridiculous it sounded:
"With a wireless network, students can sit outside at lunch and have access to the
school's network from their laptops. In the classroom, students can work in teams and
can group wherever they wish. With a wireless network, they aren't tethered to a
certain seat and a certain port, and they won't trip over all those cords."
Tripping over cords? How big of a problem is that compared to decreasing
graduation rates or illiteracy?
I'm not saying that these technologies won't ever have their place in our schools,
but in due time. Wireless technology is great, but it's not for everyone yet.