Monday, March 14, 2011

Laptops for every student?

by Andrew Wilson

Dear Colleagues,

I started teaching over twenty years ago, and since then, both as a teacher and a parent, I have seen many projects come and go. I'm sure I'm not alone in this ;)

Some projects were baked to perfection, some were so burnt that they were indigestible, while others, sadly, were quite half-baked. I have no doubt that they were all proposed and implemented with the best of intentions, and I mean this most sincerely.

I recently read an article (I'll include the link below) by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich in the JP about proposed plans for 'school computerization'.  Meir Shitrit, Knesset Science and Technology Committee chairman, is quoted as saying "Parents spend hundreds of shekels annually per pupil on buying schoolbooks, when an inexpensive laptop can be bought and used to download all the books from the Internet." The article then goes on to say that there will be an investment of a billion shekels to buy a new computer for each pupil.

Later on, Gila Ben Har predicted that "parents will pay half the cost of a digital book and will be able to purchase a laptop in easy installments for their children" - which slightly contradicts what MK Shitrit said, but never mind. First of all, if parents are expected to pay for the laptops in easy installments, I can already see the difficulties. At our school, there are many families who cannot afford to pay the regular school fees, never mind intsallments for laptops. Secondly, whether these laptops are supplied by the Ministry of Education or bought by parents, the problems are numerous. Our school buys books and lends them to students. No matter how hard we try to keep those books in good shape, there are always books which arrive back at the library in a very sorry state. There also those that disappear into thin air, and I understand that it is difficult to get parents to pay for their replacement. What will happen when a student breaks, drops or loses his laptop? Will the ministry repair or replace it? If not, I can't see parents doing this. Thirdly, let's assume students come with their laptops. I'm no computer expert, but if hundreds of students use the Internet at the same time, is is possible that this would put a strain on the infrastructure at some point along the line? Our school has one technician - I'm sure he'd be driven crazy in a very short space of time by requests from teachers and students to fix various problems. Finally, I have worked with students using the Internet in our computer room on several occasions and every time I have caught some 'poor lost soul' who found his or her way into Facebook  (or worse!) during the lesson. Imagine being in a class with forty students with their noses deep in their laptops. How much work do you think would really be done?

I also wonder how Ms Ben Har arrived at the conclusion that parents will pay half the cost of a digital book. Assuming that she means that digital books will cost half the price of a regular book (the phrasing is ambiguous in the article), I can't help comparing this to Kindle prices which are not so very much cheaper than regular books.

The article informs us that the ministry "will soon issue a directive to all curriculum developers that their work must be produced as digital as well as printed product". If every student has a laptop, etc., etc., then why do we need printed product? I hope it is not because they foresee problems in certain parts of the country (often referred to as "the periphery")...

It is very easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise, and that is not my intention. While not being a computer wizard, I would hope that I am not totally Neanderthal either. I personally like to teach from a book. I am aware of the need to use computers in school, and of the fact that they can complement books perfectly, but do we need to decide that every subject that is taught in school has to go over to complete computerization? I think that as far as English is concerned, the computer is a great tool. If there's so much money 'up for grabs', why not invest it in Interactive White Boards? At the moment, our school has one which is used only for designated classes. I would love to learn more about them. If we use IWBs, this will allow us to have each student focused on the same thing rather than each student working from his own laptop. My guess is that it would be more communicative, and less expensive.

I thought very carefully before writing this mail since, as I've already said, I'm not a computer expert, and it is possible that I have totally misinterpreted some points. If so, I'm sure someone will put me right. However, if there is something in what I say, it seems to me to be a (very expensive) recipe for disaster...

Andrew Wilson

Link for the article:


  1. I Think you brought up many valid points. It's a problematic scenario.
    I have a pupil who is allowed to use a laptop in class. He keeps having trouble with it and doesn't always use it. He also forgets to bring it. In addition, the pupil often has to sit next to the wall because he needs the electrical outlet. We don't have wi-fi so the Internet isn't a benefit...

  2. You also may want to check out the latest Net Day survey results which was just presented to Congress in the USA this month @

    The results said that 60% of parents would be willing to pay for mobile smart phones and a wireless package to provide their kids with a phone to use for academic purposes.

    Yes, the possibilities come fraught with problems, but it's also the only place according to the report that the digital divide has disappeared between rich and poor. However, it is creating a larger digital divide between educators and students.

    It will be interesting to see what Congress does with the info (probably nothing). But I don't see why telecomm companies aren't jumping on offering packages to school districts that would provide smart phones to every student through their parents package. Think of the revenue for them...

    As for students using the computer for other than school work, that's a problem I face on a daily basis as a computer education teacher now. I'm trying to teach them to use the computer for work, and they keep slipping to playing games or checking out tennis shoes on the web. I have ways of controlling their computer, but I go back and forth with wondering why I bother. Isn't that a lesson we all have to learn as learners.... to focus on the task at hand despite the distractions out there? For example, I'm supposed to be working on a dissertation right now, but I was drawn to write here,.... sigh... But anyhow, where better to practice that focus than in a school setting on daily basis with teachers guiding them. It means our roles as teachers will change drastically..

    Oh well... back to that research..

    Cybrscrybe (aka Barb Boksz)

  3. It's also very unhealthy to have so many people using wireless internet in a small classroom, all day, at the same time.

    There was a school who tried in in the US, and within a year five of their teachers and at least twenty students came down with cancer, IIRC.

  4. its very good for us, thanks for update.

  5. First of all, a great article, Andrew.

    You have addressed many of the issues our "sages" up there in the Ministry of Education are hardly aware of.

    I am not sure this would work in this country, though.
    Perhaps at some schools.A pilot project is long overdue.
    Our government have been known to come up with all kinds of promises of a 'brighter future'. The are eager to make hasty announcements just to create a stir, a buzz and profit from it - in the short term, of course.
    The general public know the pen-pushers and bureaucrats in the Gov't have seldom delivered on their promises...So, please, don't hold your breath. There will be no laptops coming any time soon.That'll take time,lots of patience and by that time the need for this initiative will have been eliminated by a more superior or efficient alternative. Israel is no Singapore or South Korea and probably never will be. I know, because I lived and worked there. I also taught English there. That was a great experience. Learned a lot for myself. So, here are some of the reasons why Israel is lagging behind in mass-introducing and implementing technology-aided education reform in a public sector.
    First, it's very poor discipline, a total lack of respect towards any authority,no personal responsibility, our authorities' lenience and total incompetence.
    Second, before this ambitious program is launched,most teachers needs to be PC-educated, since quite a few do not feel that comfortable with computers.Would you agree?

    One more thing-to date,most parents have to pay for their kids' tuition,which normally includes books and other expenses.Why should laptops come at no cost whatsoever?Easy come,easy go.People,especially kids and teenagers tend to have little appreciation and take up little responsibility for anything they get for free. It's about time young people learned about the responsibilities and the consequences of failing to fulfill them. We'll see thousands of students lose their laptops annually and the program will be scrapped in no time.

    I think IWB coupled with some other aids is a much better idea.Why give each kid a free laptop to tinker and fiddle with,only to discover later it's full of crap,viruses,games,etc or that it's completely destroyed?

    Investing in the school infrastructure is the possible solution. Classrooms at the Israeli schools are merely concrete boxes equipped with outdated technology if any.

    Why throwing a billion on laptops,when you can have some classrooms equipped with built-in touchscreens (each hooked up to a server)that can be remotely-accessed using a password and a username each student will be assigned until his graduation?

    Why allowing unrestricted Internet access?
    That's a recipe for a disaster.
    I was teaching a classroom of post-school adults (a prep course for their finals in English) a month ago.Some had smartphones with the Internet access...That was a real mess.It would take just one of them who was itching to punch a few buttons to 'look up a word' to turn the class into a noisy discussion. I would first warn them,then punish them, but it would only work for a while...So, imagine 40 kids each with his/her laptop...How're you doin'...

    Hope this was helpful.


  6. Very informative and well written post! Quite interesting and nice topic chosen for the post.

    HP - 17.3" Refurbished Pavilion Laptop - 8GB Memory - 1.5TB Hard Drive - Dark Umber

  7. I agree with your ideas, in my opinion, laptop for every student can help them learn faster and more motivated. The thing is to overcome the cost of each laptop for every student.