School's iPad requirement 'divisive'

It's only a matter of time before all college students have to take an iPad to school, the Secondary Principals Association says.

Decile-nine Orewa College has told parents the iPad 2 will be a compulsory stationery item for all year nine pupils next year. The move was welcomed this afternoon by an IT specialist, although critics say the device is not an affordable option for all parents.

The iPad sells for between $799 to $1148.

Principals' association president Patrick Walsh said it would probably only be four or five years before iPads became compulsory, but the question remained as to who was going to pay.

"In lower decile schools, the Government needs to intervene and pay, or provide a subsidy if we want to keep pace with the world economy.

"There's no point in the Government rolling out the ultra fast broadband if they're not going to help provide resources in schools to use it."

While the school tells parents other 'one-to-one' devices are acceptable, a letter to parents expresses a preference for the iPad.

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Labour education spokeswoman Sue Moroney said low-income families who were already finding it difficult to make ends meet were going to struggle to come up with that kind of money.

"I think what we've got to be careful of is that we don't end up with a two-tier education system where we put low-income families in a really embarrassing situation – one in which they can't provide their child with really expensive technology and therefore limit their education," she said.

In a Stuff online poll, 91 per cent of the 4689 respondents believed it was an unnceccessary expense for parents to pay for an iPad for their child's use at school.

Laurence Zwimpfer, an education IT specialist, believes Orewa College is ahead of the game by making the iPad 2 a must-have.

"I'm impressed they've taken on this innovative approach. It's certainly where schools are heading," he said.

He believes instant access to information adds to the appeal.

"This is about self-directed learning. It's not about the old model of teaching - we moved away from that a long time ago," he said.

"Students won't have to wait to be spoon-fed information by the teacher and then be made to regurgitate it at exam time. Students will have to research and figure out which information is relevant.

"With the old model of teaching, information is restricted because students have to wait to copy everything down from the board. There is richer information available in the digital world."


Orewa College principal Kate Shevland said the school's computers would provide an option for those who could not get the money together for the iPad.

"We realise times are tough," she said. "So we are looking at the possibilities of funding or support. That is why we have given parents and students so much time – half a year."

Ms Shevland said the school was recommending pupils bought iPad 2s instead of laptops or netbooks because of their longer battery life and portability.

The college has held four meetings with parents to discuss the challenges of introducing the iPad as standard equipment for pupils.

"The feedback has been varied but most see this as a way of the future. It is just how we do it that is important."

"We had a similar process when we introduced things like calculators to stationery lists instead of supplying students with them ourselves."

Zwimpfer said people kicked up the same fuss when King's College introduced computers into the classroom a decade ago, but it was up to schools to deal with funding issues.

"Schools have always had ways of dealing with funding issues. There have been issues around people not being able to afford school uniforms and school trips, but there are avenues for making these things available for those who can't afford it," he says.

"No-one should be excluded from being connected."

Zwimpfer had no preferred portable device, but saids it makes it easier for everyone if all students have the same piece of technology.

Ms Moroney said it was not just low-income families that were struggling financially in the present economic climate. Middle-income families were also finding it tough.

With less money being spent by the Government on education, financial burdens were being shifted on to parents.

"We [Labour] think it needs to be a commitment from the Government to see information technology provided across all schools and across all families in those schools."

Ms Moroney said improving children's access to computers was an important way of bridging the social divide.

Raewyn Fox, chief executive of the New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services, said some parents already struggled to pay for uniforms and school camps without worrying about buying expensive equipment such as iPads.

Many families might have to go without something else in their budget to fund the iPads, she said.

"Parents quite often put their kids' education absolutely first and they will pay for that before paying for food or paying for the power bill or something like that."

The Education Ministry said it was up to individual schools to decide which tools would best support pupils' learning as they progressed through the schooling system.

Schools should work with parents and local communities to ensure all pupils had equitable access to such tools, it said.

Read the school's letter to parents here.

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