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NSW School Students and the Government's Planned Free Laptops
7th December 2008

As reported here and here the government will reportedly be issuing NSW years 9-12 students will a free laptop each. If this is true and if the government goes ahead with it there are some issues I think need addressing. As reported in The Age, "Next year NSW would begin rolling out lightweight, three-quarter sized laptops to the 197,000 students in years 9 to 12 with a lightweight." A lot of the issues depend if students will leave the laptops at school or home, or take them to and from every day. However as reported by The Age, Ms Verity Firth the NSW Minister for Education and Training said "That means the kids can bring their laptop in, open it up at their desk and just use it" So lets assume that either students will have to take them to and from school everyday, or can by choice. The first problem I see is if every 9-12 kid in the state has a high chance of having a laptop in their bag then street crime may rise and students may be mugged for their laptop. Unfortunately streets are not yet safe enough. Ms Firth reportedly also said, "It will be connected to the Department of Education network. As it is security coded there will be no impetus to steal one of these, because you won't be able to get access to the network." I can't see how this would technically work, and I very much doubt that it would work. Short of being stolen, what is stopping kids selling the laptop for cash?

Another issue is (more so for year 9-10 rather than 11-12) but I think a lot of students will not look after their laptop. Have you seen a group of year 9 kids, some throw bags around, others get tread on, and on a crammed school bus or crammed corridor some guy will just push everyone like sardines in between a rugby union scrum. Books inside bags can survive this, but laptops stand no chance. Schools will also have to up their security (although this is a good thing) as in the past and probably still now you would be refused to enter a certain classroom unless you left your bag outside in the corridor open to thefts.

They are some of the major concerns I have, but also students will just end up playing games, watching movies, instant messaging, emailing, surfing the web (although not so much due to the locked down nature of the DET provided internet) instead of doing school work or listening to the teachers, though I'm not sure if these things are good or bad. Because these technologies could also be using in a more relevant learning related way. For instance what would be better for the student, reading up the topic on Wikipedia instead of not making sense what the teacher is saying; instant messaging a friend about something the teacher just said instead of talking out loud and disrupting the teacher. I think we should not move so quickly to say this kind of behaviour should be condoned or discouraged rather more discussion about it should occur. This is a whole different argument and whole different matter to what I was originally trying to explore in this post, but although the technology is changing these kinds of things have been happening in the past and will continue to happen in the future. The thing that does change when you introduce technology into the classroom is that instead of the teacher being able to see if you are reading a maths textbook or science fiction novel, the teacher can no longer tell what you are doing on your laptop. These are some of the benefits of laptops in the classroom, however I think more discussion is needed.

Additionally, what will  happen when specific software is needed for a particular lesson. For example AutoCAD for a technical drawing class. You can't remove the classroom PCs yet as they would be the ones with the software installed and licensed on. There may be ways around this though.

The Age reported that "The roll out would cost $2,245 per student". Putting aside network infrastructure $2245 does sound a little too much for a mini-laptop. Currently you can get a HP DV5-1004AX (FK680PA) (CPU: AMD X2 Duo Core 2.0Ghz, RAM: 2GB DDR2, HDD: 320GB SATA, Graphic: ATI Mobile 3450 VGA dedicated 256MB, Screen: 15.4” WXGA (1280 x 800), DVD Burner Lightscribe, Card Reader, WiFi 802.11N, Gigabit LAN...) for $999, minus the cost of Microsoft Vista if you opt for a free OS like Linux. At that is not bulk buying. The $2245 per student may have changed, or may include other costs that may explain a bit more, but it is way too much for just the laptop.

Lastly the internet available at DET schools is mostly useless due to over-blocking sites on the internet. So the use of the laptops would be severely limited by this, although that is another matter entirely.

UPDATE: So it seems I have finally leant something. I should have gone straight to the source, the Premier's Media Release. After reading it I see how the media can change views. For instance "The computers will cost around $500 per unit with running costs bringing the cost per student to $2245.", which is not how I interpreted the media outlets stories.

References: http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/software/soa/NSW-to-censor-student-laptops/0,130061733,339292846,00.htm http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/laptops-in-schools-will-be-antisocial/2008/11/30/1227979845018.html http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/nsw-students-to-get-promised-laptops/2008/11/29/1227491892398.html http://news.theage.com.au/national/nsw-students-to-get-laptop-computers-20081130-6nmm.html

Tags: education, politics.