Is This The Future Of Technology In Schools?
When studying in secondary school, I imagine most people have a varying memory of what sort of computer facilities were available. Having left secondary school within the last couple of years, I remember there being a computer room for ICT lessons, and a few spare ones in the library for sixth formers to use (I remember this being something of a privilege). However I went to a state school, and I had friends attending other schools who said their school had laptops that you could wheel from classroom to classroom, or borrow from the library for an hour or so. I remember it being recommended that pupils had access to a laptop or computer at home for homework, but this was not essential. My parents had no computer facilities when they were at school, and they did alright. Never do I remember it being compulsory to bring one into school though.
One St Albans school has taken it a step further. The school has made it compulsory for all students from years 7-10 to bring their own tablet into school, such as an iPad, Samsung, or other android device. And before you ask, no this is not a private school. The school in question is Sandringham school, which is a state school for ages 11 through to 18.
I can just about get my head around the demand, in that it would mean that you wouldn’t have to make the long trek to the computer room every time you needed the internet, and you could (in theory) save paper by having work done on the tablet. However, there are many problems with this which I have found, the most obvious of which being the cost. A quick look on Amazon tells me that the cheapest reliable tablet (and lets face it, in order for them to last you 4 years they have to be reliable) is about £80, and the average iPad mini will set you back £200. Is it really fair to expect parents, who have chosen to send their children to a school which they do not have to pay for, to pay these prices for a piece of equipment which (in my opinion) is not a necessity? The school are offering a lease scheme for those parents who are struggling to afford it, for between £7 and £15 a month. This scheme may spread the cost out a little, but over the course of the four years (minus those months that are the summer holidays) you are still looking at paying £280-£600 per child.
This brings me to my second issue. It is pretty rare to have more than one child and not send them to the same school. So if we imagine that the average parent has to pay £150 for a tablet for their child, what does that mean for parents with four or five children at the school? £600? Maybe more? That’s quite a hefty sum. And if you do choose to use the monthly lease scheme, that could leave you looking at £30+ a month for these tablets, £1200 over the course of the four years.
Now you could argue that parents could choose to send their children to a school where this is not a requirement. Aside from the fact that I think that families should feel free to choose whatever school they want, there is the issue of catchment areas. I grew up in St Albans, and therefore am very familiar with the concept of catchment areas. I do not know whether they are a common problem in other areas, but I know that where I grew up it was a yearly battle to try and get your child into a decent school. Here is a brief description of how it works.
If there is a lot of competition for places at state secondary schools in an area, the school has to prioritise which students are enrolled and which are sent to look elsewhere for places. Priority is given to students with siblings already in attendance at the school, and then allocated based on how closely you live to the school. This means that most children end up attending their closest school. Now, if your closest decent school happens to be a school that requires tablets, do you apply there even though you might not be able to afford that fee, or do you fight to get your child in somewhere else, accepting of course that the only other places available to you might be a school of a lesser standard than you had hoped or one a million miles away?
I am not a parent, therefore I can only imagine the kind of stress that a state schools hidden fees cause. I mean, in most cases you still have to pay for lunches, the occasional day trip that you’re told is compulsory, bus fares or petrol money to get them there on time, among other things. However, this is one thing that I know: every child has the right to a good education – no matter what kind of financial background they are from.
There is already a divide between State and Private schooling, and I fear that if tablets become the norm in higher achieving state schools, there will be even more of a divide. A divide between those that can afford a school that scores highly in the Ofsted inspections, and those that can’t.
We do not need a three tiered education system. A system where if you’re rich you go to private school, if you’re middle class you go to a good school, and if you are not you go to neither. I fear that system is already in place a little, and we should be trying to break it, not reinforce it. We should be striving for equal opportunities, and so I really hope that this is not a trend that catches on.