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Instead of Laptops


Liana Wang, Bellaire, 2016

“PowerUp”, as HISD’s new laptop program is called, has a good aim. It’s true that as we shift further into the digital era, access to technology is key, especially for underserved students who wouldn’t have that access otherwise. PowerUp should exist for them – however, according to HISD’s public records data, Bellaire distributed 4027 laptops in 2014.

Many of those students have their own devices that they leave at home due to internet connectivity problems on the “Guest” networks, or because of certain classes (for example, “Test Mode” software seems to be rather selective about which non-HISD computers it would like to install itself on). Suggestion here: Strengthen the original purpose of “technology in the classroom” by improving connectivity and compatibility for those with their own devices, while cutting down laptop distribution to those who don’t need them.

HISD plans to equip all high schools with laptops in the 2015-16 school year in order to supposedly bring the future into the classroom. Yet conversely, PowerUp’s scope foregoes its most basic purpose: to improve education in the classroom.

A variety of posts have already mentioned the distraction technology provides, so there’s no use beating a dead horse there. But there is a lot to think about in terms of possible trade-offs. Instead of laptops, what could that money and coordination and planning go into? What would be a better investment for students?

The first answer to that is simple: teachers.

Improve teachers’ salaries and reward the best ones. Lead the nation in a way that shows education is truly a priority by valuing the teachers, respecting the profession, and attracting the best candidates to the job; then, you can raise both the standards for teacher quality – and ultimately, the benchmarks that students should meet. I think any student would respond that having a good teacher in a classroom is infinitely more helpful than a technological gadget.

Being a proud TH Rogers Ram/nerd, I cannot thank my middle school enough for the amazing learning environment that really inspired me to try hard and succeed. We didn’t have laptops. We had amazing, encouraging teachers that I still think of today, whose advice and teaching have stayed with me years later. A laptop might be able to change a life, but I’d argue a good teacher has a much higher potential to.

Spend time and effort on, for example, planning more teacher training, following education models that have succeeded in countries like Japan and Norway. Sessions that gather the top teachers in the country will not only encourage new ones entering the field, but allow sharing of advice, creating support for constant improvement. By examining education research, teachers can make both micro and macro adjustments in their classroom strategies.

Instead of distributing laptops and creating a new framework for digital education, revolutionize the existing framework of learning and give teachers more of the trust and flexibility that their peers in countries with top education systems worldwide enjoy already.

This post probably sounds remarkably idealistic, but there exists more than one way to lead the country, and shelling money at technology isn’t exactly the best. It might sound good on paper, but if you really want concrete, long-term improvement in the student experience, in your schools, then the resources and effort spent on PowerUp can better empower students elsewhere.

One comment on “Instead of Laptops

  1. Dan Wever
    August 11, 2016

    Let’s all hope Liana ends up in Education. She had a good feeling about what Education is supposed to be all about. Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed!

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This entry was posted on March 23, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , , .

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