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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Expensive laptops are not the answer

Gone are the days of simple back-to-school shopping, the crisp feel of unused notebooks and the pristine sharpness of No. 2 pencils, that somehow yielded inexplicable feelings of excitement regarding the upcoming school year. Instead, a new and more costly back-to-school necessity has emerged for students of the new millennium.
Laptops, one icon of the 21st century, have reared their ugly heads in the classroom. For many students, in public and private schools alike, laptops are becoming as imperative to education as textbooks and pencils. New programs, provided by the Anytime, Anywhere Learning program and headed by the Microsoft Corp., are giving laptops to students as young as fourth graders, to be toted around school and taken home at the end of the day.
Despite the overzealous opinions of techno-junkies and computer corporations around the world, it is highly doubtful that $2,000 laptops, plus the many other expenses and problems generated by this program, are going to make a significant difference in the big picture of education.
The idea behind providing laptops for students is idealistic. Administrators hope to end the “digital divide” between students from wealthier families and students from lower income families and help students apply computer skills to their learning experience as a whole.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, advocates said laptops “have an egalitarian effect on classrooms, replacing top-down, lecture-based teaching with collaborative, student-led projects.”
Early research suggests improvements in student writing and attendance. Students also appear to be more excited about their class work.
However, the results of these reports easily could be attributed to simultaneous improvements in the curricula that existed independent of the laptop programs.
Many critics feel that the excitement with which student’s greeted the laptops’ arrivals will wear off, and administrators will be forced to search for a new, more expensive way to entice kids to learning.
The most obvious problem with supplying students with laptops is the expenses that incur for a public school district.
In Bloomfield, Conn., Carmen Arace Middle School has given every student — all 850 of them — a laptop computer and installed wireless networks in every classroom. This program was financed by a $2.1-million, five-year plan with NetSchools. To support this state-of-the-art learning environment, large sums of money were spent training educators, installing wireless networks, rebuilding courses to match the introduction of the Internet, and hiring on-site computer technicians.
According to The New York Times, even Jerry Crystal, the technology coordinator for the Bloomfield district who directed the laptop program, is conducting an intense evaluation of the Carmen Arace Middle School to find out “exactly what students are getting in return for those $500,000 checks the school board has written each year.”
Even in elite private schools, where laptops in the classroom originated, many voices of dissent have been heard.
At Lakeside School in Seattle, Wash. alma mater of Bill Gates and one of the first private schools to implement laptops, one parent, who is a computer engineer, said, “If there is an academic deficit, it’s that students can’t do critical reasoning and can’t analyze. These capabilities have nothing to do with a piece of machinery.”
Unfortunately, our society could end up with a generation of “cut-and-paste kids” who cannot rely on their analytical skills or imagination because they never were developed in their youth. As it appears, laptops in the classroom pose significantly more questions than they do answers.
Carmen Arace Middle School and Lakeside School do not stand alone in the growing number of both public and private schools implementing laptops into their curricula. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “200,000 children nationwide carry laptops in their school backpacks every day.”
However, technological changes do not mean the needs of children have changed. Technology is a huge part of our everyday lives, but that does not mean every child in grades four through 12 needs a personal laptop. In fact, technology will change so much by the time kids graduate, that what they learn at school will have almost no relevance to what they encounter in the workplace.
Instead of spending tax-payer dollars on laptops, school districts should consider improving the quality and quantity of the more affordable stand-alone personal computer and applying computer usage to the study of traditional courses. When problems suffocate the benefits of advanced technology, there is something to be said for simplicity and tradition.
One Lakeside parent summed it up perfectly by saying, “Kids already have 24-hour access to learning. It’s called books.”

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