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.