Much like with toy cellphones, kitchenware and hardware tools, children under a certain age once played with toy computers to simulate the experience of working on the real thing. But in recent years, children as young as 2 and 3 years old have eclipsed the step of starting out with a toy version of a piece of technology and are now playing on iPads and other devices before they start kindergarten.
And with the rising fad of mobile devices, public schools are left to decide if the use of devices like iPads should be integrated into class curriculums. While some education officials praise the newer strategy for aiding learning, others claim devices like iPads have no place in the classroom.
In April, an elementary school in Auburn, Maine, was given permission to distribute iPads to kindergarteners next fall — an expense with a $200,000 price tag, according to local media. But not all were in favor of the decision including former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who claimed on Twitter that she hoped the students would break their iPads since they should be playing instead of using the devices.
Has the Information Age turned into an information overload? Mali Mann, adjunct clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine, said the abundance of technology can create a “technology addiction” in children.
“In the past, we only had to be concerned about too much TV exposure,” Mann said in a statement. “Now we have video games, computers and cellphones. It is overwhelming for young children and creates patterns of behaviors similar to addiction patterns.”
But some education leaders feel that incorporating mobile devices into the classroom is essential for students, even as early as kindergarten.
Bernajean Porter, an education consultant and former educator, said schools that want to integrate mobile devices into classroom curriculums need to do more than simply distribute them to students — schools need proper communication and strategies for using them before students receive the devices. Although the use of mobile devices in public school curriculums isn’t the norm, Porter said it will become the trend in the near future. “You might as well send a modern-day Paul Revere through the universe because they’re coming,” she said.
Porter said the fears of parents or critics who believe that children will break or lose school-issued devices are unfounded because schools that have been piloting the use of iPads and other mobile devices in the classroom have not had that problem.
“We are not finding that that disaster fantasy is actually playing out in real life, including being in socioeconomic neighborhoods in which those devices might be taken from kids,” she said.
But Porter said there needs to be an open line of communication between the schools and the parents before the devices are distributed. Schools will need to address and set up systems so that the students can use the devices properly such as creating a check-out system for the devices and deciding what backpacks students should use if they will be carrying the devices.
Other concerns deal with the costs associated with incorporating the devices into classroom use. For school districts like Inver Grove Heights in Minnesota, voters turned down a referendum measure that would have raised money for the district to ramp up the school’s technology needs in part by giving iPads to students.
Lucy Gray, an education consultant, said it can be a smart investment for schools to purchase iPads for students since the costs involved with maintaining PCs in the classroom can be more expensive. In addition, because many apps are free or inexpensive and since schools can get access to volume purchasing, they can purchase iPads and apps in a more frugal manner.
“If it’s done well and thoughtfully,” Gray said, “I don’t think it needs to cost a gazillion dollars.”
This story originally appeared in our sister publication, Government Technology.