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Should schools be in the "computer business"?

Reading a brief history of computers in education was an interesting walk down memory lane. I remember mainframes, punch cards and learning fortran in college. I remember our first family computer, a Commodore 64, and I remember getting Acer computers in my classroom in 1996. What caught my attention however, was a pattern I noticed in the movement from big universities installing mainframe computers to high schools and elementary schools starting computer labs and now the work being done to put laptops or netbooks in the hands of students. Clearly educational institutions have recognized the need to provide students with some training and access to technology. And I would suggest that in the beginning the universities and schools understood that they had an essential role to playing in providing students this opportunity to be on the cutting edge because costs and other factors made technology access a scarce commodity for individuals. How should things be different now that technology costs have dropped and access is growing more ubiquitous? I understand that and there is room to argue that in some areas of the US and for some groups access to technology is still limited. However, the focus of this reflection is- Given the current state of technology, should the schools fundamental role change with regard to being purveyors of technologyt?

While some may still debate the role of technology in education I believe that most educators understand that access to information and connectivity are important. Therefore, if for the moment, we accept that technology is a key component in learning and that it is simply a tool, not an end in and of itself, then we can turn our attention to the question at hand. Are we at a new point on the time-line of technology in education? Should schools be the providers of technology or have things changed enough that there maybe more effective models?

Knowing that computers are tools of learning and that there are now affordable options including netbooks is it time to empower students and parents to take ownership of this tool? The issues of the digital divide and poverty are real and supporting and empowering families in the quest to secure the necessary tools of learning is a solution which provides long term opportunities while having the school own the technology is only a temporary help. As school leaders it requires a commitment to building vision and reaching out to the families. It means helping them find affordable options and being flexible but in the end it means that each student and each family is invested in and has access to the opportunity to learn anytime anywhere. If we are willing step into the challenge and empower our families the possibilities are endless. In the school where I work 6 9% of the students in live at or below the poverty level . Believing that computers are an essential tool of learning , knowing that there are now affordable options we set about helping the parents understand the vision and then raise the money to purchase these tools for their students. Our families held pupusa sales, movie nights and garage sales, the student council raised funds with bake sales and in the end every student in grades 6 to 8 owns their own netbook computer but more importantly they have taken ownership of their learning opportunities.

Shifting from providing to empowering means:

  • Students and parents are involved, take ownership and begin to understand the anytime, anywhere opportunities provided by connectivity
  • These computers will go with the students when they graduate.
  • The school is no longer the purveyors of technology.
  • The school provides internet access, and loaner computers but we are out of the business of continual upkeep and repair though we do provide some support for minor fixes. ( As part of the package parents got insurance to cover the computers and other electronics which has been a real value for all concerned)
  • We are focused on the learning opportunities not on the tool
by Barbara Barreda
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