Tablets 'holding students back'

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Are tablets, including iPads, hampering kids computer skills.
Derek Flynn

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Are tablets, including iPads, hampering kids computer skills.

Increased smart device use at schools is hampering pupils' computer skills development, industry experts say.

Schools and public libraries are being crowded by young people wanting to learn "code" - the computer commands that create the world's best-paid careers.

Canterbury IT professionals and teachers say the education system is not ready for the onslaught because of prevalence of iPads and other tablets in the classroom.

Nina Lamb, of the non-profit Canterbury Software Cluster, said the IT industry did not want to criticise teachers or schools for purchasing decisions "but rather educate them that our children have the potential to do so much more with technology than is currently utilised".

St Bede's College head of digital technologies Gerard MacManus said the school had "dedicated classrooms" for computer skills training and parents could decide what devices to buy.

It had decided against a "Bring Your Own Device" policy and instead raised school fees partly to level-out student access to technology.

St Bede's aimed to use free, open source software "to be able to create at school, at home and just carry on the learning", MacManus said.

Code was in its infancy in New Zealand, just four years into an NCEA achievement standard for year 11. In all, 174 schools were teaching Level One programming.

MacManus could "kind of see" why primary schools often favoured iPads and other tablets. A coding game called Scratch worked on Chromebook while Scratch Junior did the job on iPad.

Primary schools could still do some form of programming but problems arose with text-based programming languages.

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A system called Python should ideally allow users to create games, text instructions and interact with graphics.

"That requires a little bit more skill and unfortunately when you install Python in a Chromebook, it's sort of version 2.72 whereas everything now is around version 3.3 and 3.40." The application developers had not caught up with the technology, MacManus said.

Burnside High School's technology faculty head John Creighton said the suitability of devices for code "sort of depends" on the course-work.

Scratch was applicable to any device, while products like Chromebook were especially quick to load, adaptable to any classroom and free of viruses, he said.

Parents could increasingly expect to equip their children instead of replying on schools to have all the equipment.

'NOT SO SMART' DEVICES

Technology journalists and commentators in Britain have warned schools against swapping laptops for popular "smart" devices.

Blogger Donald Clark last year gave "seven reasons why tablets should not be used in education".

They were "unfriendly" in schools for coding but also costly and mostly geared to entertainment, he said.

"Once beyond the basics of play, the iPad is a luxury that schools cannot afford. Neither are they desirable in terms of the type of learning that schools largely deliver. These initiatives are often technology and not learning-led", Clark wrote on blogspot.co.uk, adding that tablets could also hold people back in the workplace.

In 2012, British-based technology website PCPro wrote about an "image-conscious" headmaster, who had been tempted by a scheme that allowed all the school's staff to replace their laptop computers with an iPad. Most of the staff were IT-illiterate and jumped at the chance of exchanging their laptop but the staffroom was now "full of regret", the website reported.

 - The Press

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