Fladun / Rising cost of a ‘free’ education

“Suddenly my boy is carrying more than $1000 worth of IT hardware – a tablet and smartphone – in his backpack to school each day.,” writes Mum in the City columnist SONYA FLADUN

MAYBE I’m slipping a bit behind the times, but BYOD was an acronym I hadn’t heard of until recently.

Sonya Fladun.

Sonya Fladun.

“Bring Your Own Device” is the policy at my son’s new high school. It came as a bit of a surprise at the beginning of the new school year. We hadn’t really thought about it, but suddenly my boy is carrying more than $1000 worth of IT hardware – a tablet and smartphone – in his backpack to school each day.

It should have dawned on me earlier that my son’s transition to high school would require a major technological upgrade. We attended several information nights at various schools. At one well-resourced private school, there was a hugely animated debate among parents about the school’s preference for a particular type of tablet and operating system over another. This got people far more excited than the curriculum. As something of a computer agnostic, I hadn’t realised that IT sectarianism was so rife in today’s society.

Fortunately, I think, my son’s new school doesn’t have a preference for one system or another provided one’s device meets certain criteria for compatibility with the school’s wifi and various online learning programs. At least then parents are unlikely to come to blows arguing the merits of one IT church or the other.

I have been thinking quite a bit about the BYOD policy. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was pushing a Commonwealth Government program, the “Digital Education Revolution”, to put a laptop on every high school student’s desk, but that’s already history now. Instead parents are responsible for providing the required devices to support their children’s learning in school.
Our kids now have at their fingertips unlimited access to information, resources, experts, databases and communities of interest.

Schools can leverage all this to deepen student learning and to prepare students for the high-tech world in which they will live, learn and work. That said more thought needs to go into just how our schools are dealing with this technological revolution.

At the most basic level BYOD lifts the entry costs of a supposedly “free” government school education. As a family that has recently undergone some very considerable financial stress, I can say that the up-front IT costs of high school were pretty daunting. There are many households that will find the costs very significant, if not prohibitive, especially as the minimum technological requirements rise. There is a big social equity issue that needs to be addressed.

There are also some pretty significant issues about the security of personal information, the theft of devices, engagement with social media and the potential for the devices to be a distraction from other parts of learning. Concerns about the prevalence of the online bully are very important, but strike me as only one issue among many.

No doubt the increasingly digital classroom is attractive to education bureaucrats from the point of view of cost savings, but preparing students for the digital workplace shouldn’t be at the expense of a fully rounded education, including developing the social skills for effective face-to-face communication.

BYOD seems inevitable and necessary, but I can’t but help thinking we’ve all embarked on another unplanned social experiment with all sorts of unforeseen consequences.

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