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iPad School Distribution Program is a Disaster Waiting to Happen

Should K-12 students be given iPads to take home?

Here in California a growing trend in K-12 education is to give each student an iPad to use in school and take home for assignments. Some school districts are using money from Common Core State Standards Implementation funds to pay for the nearly $1 billion cost just in the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) alone. Giving students an iPad sounds like a great idea but is fraught with danger. Here are the good, bad and ugly sides of the issue.

The good: Access to an iPad enables a student to learn 21st century technology and engages them in the learning process. The program will enable school districts with low income kids to compete on a level playing field with kids from wealthier districts who already might have the tablet at home.

The bad: The iPads can be stolen or sold and students can say they were returned to the schools. The devices might be used to hack into school files and change recorded grades.

The ugly: The iPads can be used to post offensive material on the Internet about another student or even engage in cyberbullying.

By giving kids their own iPads rather than providing them access while in school and then placing them under lock and key, the school district is trusting that kids will not use their iPads in unintended ways.  Before school districts green light such plans I suggest they look carefully at the experience of the LAUSD that began an iPad distribution program last year.

LAUSD officials recently said that 71 iPads distributed to students as part of a 13-school trial run have gone missing. The report of the missing iPads came days after it was revealed that iPads taken home were used to hack three L.A. schools for non-school related purposes. Other students disabled security measures on their iPads to access Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other unauthorized sites.

The fact is that security measures are inadequate to control usage so it all comes down to the ethics of the kids: Did they break the tablets, discard them, and then claim otherwise? Did they sell them for cash?

My advice to all school district officials is not to let the kids take these devices home. Assignments can be given in school and time allotted each day to complete the assignment using the tablets. Teachers can monitor how the iPads are used and help students to navigate the Internet to access material. Kids in lower income school districts will be treated the same as those in wealthier districts.

I don’t know why these kids would be trusted to take their iPads home and use them only for assigned purposes. If school district officials expect parents to monitor usage they must have been asleep for the past ten years or so. Most parents can’t or won’t or are just disengaged with their kids in the learning process so that consistent monitoring across the board is not going to happen.

Here’s a flash for school district officials: Teenagers are not ethically well developed at that age to conform to societal norms of right and wrong. They are driven by self-interest and influenced by their peers. Students in K-12 are not responsible enough to self-monitor the use of an iPad outside of class. Giving them access to such a tool without proper supervision is a disaster waiting to happen including breaches of school security and using the tablets in offensive ways.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 3, 2013