By YIQIONG SHANG
Education experts have praised a state-wide initiative that gives financially disadvantaged students a cheaper way to access digital technologies.
Iramoo Primary School learning technology coordinator Peter Mills said the iPad program received positive feedback from both teachers and parents.
“They (students) love the iPads. They have a variety of apps they like which helps them follow their own interests, which in some ways is the essence of the program,” Mr Mills said.
The program in Iramoo PS in Wyndham, in Melbourne's outer west, is different to the widely-used Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) system which requires students to bring their own iPad to school and pay more than $800 to do so.
Each student is provided with an iPad bought by Iramoo PS and parents are expected to make a contribution of $400, which covers an iPad Air, insurance, IT support, educational apps and a survivor case for three years.
At the end of grade 6, the student is able to keep the iPad if payments have been made.
“With our school-owned, parent-contribution model, all students have the same opportunity to get a device,” Mr Mills said.
Griffith University Professor Emeritus Glenn Finger, in the School of Education and Professional Studies, said research showed learning and teaching could be enhanced through technology.
“For example, it enables learning to take place anywhere and at any time, rather than to be restricted by a timetable and physical space,” Prof Finger said.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) transforms the ways students think and learn and gives them greater control over how, where and when they learn.
Prof Finger said the technology could teach students to design a solution to real world problems.
“There is now an excellent Technologies Learning Area Curriculum for prep-year 10, which includes two subject areas, Design and Technology and Digital Technologies … Again, while some of the achievement standards of these might be achieved through 'unplugged' activities, they essentially require the use of digital technologies,” he said.
With some low-income families struggling to pay for these devices, Prof Finger said “equity can be achieved over time”.
“Schools can develop strategies to address this, for example, by provision of these by the school for those students,” he said.
While many schools have opted for a BYOD program where parents are responsible for the full cost of providing, insuring and managing their child’s device, Mr Mills said there was a variety of ways to run these programs.
“Importantly, there are students who are inevitably disadvantaged … We make allowances such as part payments, or discounts for genuine need, to give every student the chance to take their iPad home,” he said.
But there are also doubts about the extent to which it actually benefits students’ deep learning.
Melbourne University Associate Professor Kay Margetts, in the Graduate School of Education, said she questioned whether teachers were critically thinking about how the technology could be used to achieve their teaching aims.
“Is it just being used as a device to do Mathletics and Reading Eggs, and to find out information? Or are teachers carefully thinking about the skills they are building in students through the use of technologies, such as creative thinking, problem solving, perseverance, collaboration skills?” Prof Margetts said.
“The devices are very useful as communication and information tools, but we need to make sure that they are used for far more than that,” she said.
Mr Mills said teachers generally needed Professional Development because of different levels of the experience with new technologies, and just typing and printing stories was not always the best use of digital devices.
“I always emphasise that the best use of the technology is to do things with the iPads that can’t be done in more conventional ways … we have regular sessions (for teachers), but there is a lot to cover,” he said.
“We are currently implementing Google Docs which will give us access to a Learning Management system which will make it much easier for teachers to manage student work without printing it, and promote a more collaborative curriculum.”
Prof Margetts said she was concerned about the overuse of digital technologies as research raised issues related to children’s development.
“It can lead to problems with writing and reading as well as other aspects of academic learning,” she said.
This year the “1:1 iPad Program” has been removed from the curriculum of Flemington Primary School – which used to be one of the “Apple Distinguished Schools” and started the program in 2015 – after consultation with the local community. Reasons included that the iPad “ruins students’ handwriting”.