How many iPads does a school need?

Contrary to what people might think, I feel that spending lots of money on shiny new iPads for schools is money poorly spent. I don’t deny that iPads are great learning tools – I can attest to that – but they’re very expensive upfront and don’t last all that long before they become obsolete and need replacing. I’m not sure how many iPads per school is the right number but one per student is definitely not necessary. I’m inclined to think that maybe one lesson with iPads per week is enough – so 30 iPads or enough for one classroom full – and then rotate these around the school so that each class has a turn.

It might seem like a strange thing for someone who works in the IT industry and who also happens to love gadgets to say but although I feel iPads are a bit of a waste of money, I don’t think there’s enough computer science in the curriculum. There isn’t really anything in primary school at all and high schools seem to think access to a computer lab and various software programs is enough of an ICT program. That at least was the prevailing attitude in New Zealand schools.

Which brings me to what I really want to talk about and that’s Computer Science Unplugged. It’s a collection of resources for children to learn computer science without a computer. A New Zealand computer scientist, Tim Bell, is behind it and he’s developed lots of fun activities for kids to learn about concepts like sorting algorithms and encryption. People sometimes think computer science is just programming or learning a software package but it’s more than that. I think we’ll do more for our young people if we teach them concepts that are not dependent on one particular software application or tool because software changes and if they understand the concepts they can apply them to any tool.

6 thoughts on “How many iPads does a school need?”

  1. I couldn’t agree more with this. When I left highschool, they were just starting to implement them. From what I’ve heard, they’ve proved to be more distraction than addition to the classroom. I’m a big believer that if technology doesn’t enhance the classroom experience, it should be removed. Also, I’ve never heard of the CS Unplugged – very cool.

    1. What’s even more concerning and that I forgot to mention is that all this money is spent on iPads at the expense of other things like computers. Although what I’d really like schools to spend money on here is the playground. I’ve never seen such depressing playgrounds in my life as in British schools.

  2. Oooh! A couple of years ago a massively beefed up computing curriculum came into primary schools, and then in the latest round of changes, it was almost all taken out again. Luckily, our local primary school (where I’m a governor) had put so much resource into it that they have kept computing pretty much intact. They have been learning about the concept of algorithms for a while (at Elizabeth’s age they can program the “Roamer”). The newest things that have come in on the new curriculum are: “Design, Write, Debug”, “Variables”, “Use sequence, selection and repetition”, “use various input and output devices”, which are quite sophisticated concepts. I’ll have a look at those resources – I am the IT monitoring governor, so it will help me visualise what there is out there to help with children’s learning.

    1. Wow, I’m really impressed to hear that. Was this in the English school curriculum? There’s nothing like that in Scotland and there was nothing like that at the primary school in York either.

    1. I’m not sure. I would prefer to see schools spend money on computers than on iPads. But even so, there’s lots of great activities in the computer science unplugged stuff that don’t require computers.

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