Governments subsiding tablets in education
Governments worldwide are waking up to the boom in mobile learning. Currently developing countries such as India and Brazil are leading the way by funding cheap tablet PCs available to those in education, with the USA catching on to the trend and likely to follow suit. The most prominent example at the moment is the Aakash 2 tablet, manufactured by the UK-based company Datawind, which the Indian government hopes to sell to students at the equivalent price of £13 over the next few years. It comes with a seven inch screen, a three hour battery life, the latest Android software and a processor that equals in strength those of Apple’s first generation I-pads. The real question here though is, why are these governments backing such innovations in the first place?
These subsidy schemes are revolutionising the world of education, not by bringing the cutting edge of tablet technology to the field, but by making existing advances available to the masses both in terms of availability and affordability. It is a somewhat cliché argument but by investing in their students, these countries are investing in their future; the benefits of tablet PCs as discussed in my last article being made available to every student have striking implications. The savings in textbook fees alone (not to mention the reduction of waste created by printing and reprinting books that quickly go out of date) would amount to billions. If tablet PCs were to become a major part of the educational institution, it would create possibilities for online learning bases and portals, interactive lessons, encouraging self-education and the open sharing of relevant materials and content.
Brazil, meanwhile, has announced plans to hand out 600,000 tablet computers out to its public schools. The primary goals of this initiative are to bridge the inequality gap (Brazil still has an advanced North/South divide when it comes to education. Although overall 9% of Brazilians are illiterate, 17.5 of Brazilians living in the north-east of the country lack basic reading and writing skills. That figure in the south drops sharply to just 5%). Truancy is also a major issue which the more engaging format of tablet education is set to tackle- Brazil is aiming to get 98% of its children to attend school regularly by 2022. The education minister, Aloizio Mercadanate, also sees the tablet initiative as an investment in teachers, saying “Bringing digital technologies into the classroom must start with the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t advance, teaching won’t either”. Of course teaching methods and student success are closely intertwined. Teachers being correctly trained in the use of tablet technology, matching the expertise of their students and riding on the forefront of technological advances, is truly an inspiring vision. Brazil is currently on the forefront of modernising education-it increased its education budget by 63% between 1995 and 2005, and also recently overtook the UK to become the world’s 6thbiggest economy.
So could similar schemes be adopted in the UK? There are no immediate plans but there is definite enthusiasm. That England’s school age children are already familiar with the use of touch screens, tablet PCs and apps is not in doubt, and there is potential for tablets to be used as a ‘virtual backpack’, saving space not just by eliminating textbooks, but even freeing up whole computer rooms within a school. Tablet PCs, especially is subsidised by the government, would be much more cost effective than constantly replacing textbooks, printing out work sheets and subscribing to online academic resources, freeing up the school’s budget to focus on other, perhaps less technological areas. Careful planning and specialised training is likely needed to make introducing new technology to the workplace a successful venture, but with so many countries already reaping the benefits of doing so, following in their footsteps no longer seems so unlikely.
-by Adam Bannister – Independent specialist in Educational Apps-