The Digital Divide

I had the enormous privilege of attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in July, a week of inspiring professional development and hearing from amazing educators from all over EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa). Not very surprisingly, many people came from schools that had some sort of 1:1 iPad programme. They could tell stories of the creative and innovate things their students were doing with technology, and more importantly how learning and future life-chances were impacted.

I’ve wanted to have a 1:1 iPad programme at my school ever since I heard about Fraser Speirs‘ pioneering work in his school in Scotland.  Research since has shown that giving a computer to every student has a measurable impact on their education, and so that question is now whether schools should go 1:1 but just when and how.

My problem is the later two questions. Working at a large state Primary school, there is a big budget but there are also a lot of students for it to go between.  With the government busy cutting budgets further, spending money on ‘luxury’ Apple tablets can seem a bit rich.

What I noticed at the ADE Institute was the high percentage of attendees from either International or Secondary schools, which tend to have more money to spend on iPads. I don’t begrudge this, but I do wonder about the digital divide: should children’s opportunity to be part of the learning revolution depend on their parents’ means or have to wait until they’re older?

Talking to people who’ve walked this path before me, it seems that there are two options:

  1. Inspire those in leadership to take a longer and harder look at the 1:1 possibility. In the scheme of things, an iPad for every child isn’t dirt cheap but is affordable: the money is there, but is being spent on the wrong things (photocopying!).
  2. Make the most of what we have. Julian Coultas has done some brilliant work on how to effectively use 8 iPads in a class of 30 children. 1:1 might be the ‘best’ way, but a smaller amount is not worthless.