Take one tablet and go to school

SCREEN WISE: Central School teacher Jo Ross says there are endless ways to use digital devices in school classrooms and her daughter, Laura, 6, is already a whiz.
SCREEN WISE: Central School teacher Jo Ross says there are endless ways to use digital devices in school classrooms and her daughter, Laura, 6, is already a whiz.

Picking up an iPad is becoming a daily activity for Taranaki students.

A total of 31 schools - almost one in three in the province - have ultra fast broadband technology to provide wi-fi internet to students.

The Government has invested $1.65 billion on on its Ultra-Fast and Rural Broadband initiatives - but the Education Ministry says it doesn't know how many of those 31 Taranaki schools actually use it.

UFB access enables schools to use iPads as a learning tool, and on Monday this week parents and teachers at Central School heard IT and education expert Stuart Hale outline their benefits.

He said far from contributing to a reduction in reading, writing and spelling skills, iPad use improved them in students.

"They think more, they spell more, they write more, they collaborate more. It's exactly the opposite of what you might think would happen," he said.

Central school teacher Judith Van Kooten, who incorporates iPads into her lesson plans agrees.

"I had one boy who learnt five plus six equals 11 and I asked him how he knew that. He said ‘I learnt it on the iPad'."

But it comes at a cost, and some schools will find it harder than others to tool up.

Taranaki principal's association spokesman and Spotswood College principal Mark Bowden said e-learning was becoming part of the fabric of education and it was a constant challenge for schools to keep up.

"Some of our classrooms are 50 years old. They were designed for chalk and talk, not computers."

To get connected to UFB and set up the school-wide wi-fi connection, New Plymouth Girls High had to upgrade its network servers to cope with the anticipated increase in traffic.

Part of the cost, $55,000, was covered by the school's Centenary Trust.

The TSB Community Trust has seen an increase in applications for grants to cover new technology.

In the past 10 months, 13 of the 16 special grants the trust has given to schools have been for information and communication technology (ICT) related projects.

One, Waitara Central School, was recently granted $27,000 for data projectors, screens, laptops and iPads.

Massey University professor Mark Brown said the pace at which digital devices were being introduced to schools was partly subject to the depth of the schools' pockets.

"The gaps between the haves and the have-nots is growing wider and wider and in some ways technology is amplifying those gaps."

Avon School in Stratford, which has a decile rating of one, has an "i" device for each of its 49 students. Normanby School, a decile 4 primary school with 137 students, has no portable digital devices but will use funds from its gala day to boost the ICT budget.

The Ministry of Education is running a pilot to determine the costs and feasibility of implementing wi-fi as part of the School Network Upgrade Programme. Results are expected within the next three months.

In Taranaki, primary schools have led the way in the wi-fi revolution. Central School has iPads in every classroom, while New Plymouth Girls High head Jenny Ellis says her school is taking an unhurried approach to phasing out older computers and introducing new technology.

New Plymouth Montessori school principal Gillian Somers said while the machines were a fantastic learning tool, the school did not use them with children under the age of 6.

"Young children learn through movement. They're sensory learners. We would like them to learn in real life first."

Professor Brown said it was not surprising primary schools were finding it easier to upgrade technology.

"It's harder as you start scaling it up. More problems arise. The technology might not work in the way we want it to and there are some serious security issues with large networks."

But he said by the time today's iPad-savvy students left school, the technology would be completely different.

"What we need to do is prepare children who are willing to give things a go, who have that sense of discovery and are not afraid of technology."

Last December parliament's education and science committee released the results of an inquiry into 21st-century learning environments and digital literacy containing 48 recommendations.

It said every child should have access to a digital device in school.

Professor Brown said the digital realm was a microcosm of the world we live in.

"If the reason we are using this technology is to prepare well-educated, well-adjusted, contributing members of society, we would be doing them a great disservice to our future citizens and adults if we were not exposing them to the good and the bad and the ugly of how this technology can be used."

Taranaki Daily News