Orewa College iPad plans move ahead

An Auckland school has moved forward with its controversial plan to make expensive tablet devices compulsory for junior pupils by rolling out a training programme for teachers.

In June Orewa College made headlines across the country after telling parents of all Year 9 students that they needed to purchase an iPad 2, which costs between $799 and $1148, or a similar handheld tablet device for their children's lessons next year.

Teachers have been schooled in using the high-tech device by IT organisation Core Education and by other staff members, and have been familiarising themselves with tablet software since last term.

Orewa College Principal Kate Shevland said that training would continue until the end of the year.

Shevland said the training "covered a range of practical aspects" of using the tablet as well as showing teachers how the device would change the "way students submit work and how teachers assign work and respond to work".

"We've had an overwhelming response from teachers the more they get to know the potential of the tablet," she said.

Introducing tablets as compulsory stationery items drew criticism from budget and education advisors who believed it would cause a two-tier education system as many families would struggle to afford it.

One of those critics was labour education spokesperson Sue Moroney who said low-income families were already struggling to pay for school uniforms and basic stationery items.

"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 where they can't provide their child with really expensive technology and therefore limit their education," she said at the time.

She added the move would also affect middle-income families who are fighting to stay afloat in the current economic climate.

"The school needs to recognise the financial pressures that are on people. The price of everything is going up faster than expected, and as well as that wages are flatlining," she said.

Her views were backed by Raewyn Fox, the chief executive of New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services, who said some families may forgo essential household items so they could afford the device.

"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," she said.

But Shevland is adamant parents are on-board with Orewa College's plans.

"We have had a meeting with the parents of the students coming in to Year 9 - many of them are new students, even though our main intake is Year 7 - and we've been through all these issues," she said.

It is not clear when the entire school will have handheld tablets as a compulsory stationery item, but Shevland is already surveying Year 8 students about suitable times to introduce them.

"Obviously we haven't entirely made a decision on that matter, but we're working through the training and seeing what is practical."

Shevland said the introduction of tablets is already changing the education landscape worldwide.

"It enables more personal attention and an individual approach to learning. Students will become more independent, be able to collaborate with peers better and have access to information earlier."

Auckland Now