Back to pen and paper

USA: Schools do without computers for every student

"A laptop for every schoolchild": At the beginning of this decade, this was a demand that education politicians in this country also had in their repertoire; after all, they didn’t want to miss the right train to the future. Now the trend seems to be changing in the U.S. – the euphoria associated with such "one-to-one computing"- The idea of a "pen and paper" program is fading, and math lessons with pen and paper are considered to be the last word in wisdom.

More and more American schools are opting out of programs that provide computers, preferably laptops, for each student, the New York Times reported yesterday. The programs cost a lot of money and hardly bring any success, according to the criticism of school principals.

In theory, "one to one computing" programs should narrow the digital divide between the poorer and the richer and prepare classrooms for the knowledge challenges of the 21st century.Open the door to the 21st century. In practice, the laptops are used by most schoolchildren for less edifying purposes, for looking at pictures, playing games, hacking and pecking, according to the report in the American newspaper (a German newspaper complained of similar conditions last fall).

Teachers do not seem to be able to cope with this abuse, and on the other hand, they are very reluctant to include laptops in their didactic programs. Moreover, many devices are said to be in repair. As the schools complain, maintenance is a costly item in an already very expensive project that has so far produced few measurable positive results. In none of the usual standard tests had students with computers performed significantly better than those without:

After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement – none. The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.

Mark Lawson, School Board president, Liverpool, N.Y. State

Some school districts complain of costs of over 100.000 dollars for repairs, but the initial costs and the costs for training the teachers can also be impressive, reaching millions of dollars depending on the size of the school district. In New York City, about 6,000 students in 22 so-called middle schools are getting laptops as part of a $45 million program that will run for three years.

Now, according to the New York Times, more and more schools from every background, urban and rural, richer and poorer, are opting out of such programs. Computers are still being used, but in small amounts – more in history classes to research documents than in math classes, for example, where there has been a return to pencil and paper – and no longer with one leased computer per student.

For enthusiasts of the use of computers in schools, the decision to support these educational institutions comes too early. It just takes time for teachers to get to the point where they can better integrate the technology into their teaching. But the tests that measure students’ skills also had to become more modern: the talents that computers and the Internet support most, "creativity, innovativeness, autonomy, and independent research," were not yet sufficiently recognized by standard tests:

If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.

Mark Warschauer, book author and professor of pedagogy