District-Issued Technology: Not All That?

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I entered the education field in October. An Alma Mater of the district in which I now teach, most things are the same—the same teachers, the principal, much of the same content. For the better or worse, there is one drastic difference; every student gets to take home a district issued Chromebook laptop. After a year watching my students tap away their days on screens, I have some thoughts. I remain unconvinced that giving each student a piece of technology is inherently a good thing.

We’ll start with the pros, though. On the surface, giving each student a laptop helps to level the educational playing field. I teach in an affluent district. They recently opened a brand new high school and have plans to put a new roof on the middle school.  Even in a district like mine, there isn’t perfect educational equality.

For example, some students have their own personal piece of technology like a laptop, desktop computer, or iPad. These same families may also use their finances for things like professional tutors or online tutoring software. There’s nothing wrong with such provisions. Any parent should want their children to have it better than they did.

However, many other students and their families may not have the financial means to provide their children with these extra bells and whistles. This is where, in theory, the laptops come into play. Providing each student with a laptop allows them equal access to their lesson plans and assignments. In terms of what equity should mean, this is a good execution of the idea.

The cons, to me, are obvious. I cannot help but wonder what the extra screen time does to the younger generation.  An article reviewing data from the National Institutes of Health summarizes it well:

Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.

Dr. Jennifer Cross, an Attending Pediatrician at NewYork-Presbyterian Phyllis and David Komansky Children’s Hospital at Weill Cornell Medical Center, and an expert in the diagnosis and management of children with developmental disabilities is quoted saying, “We’re not sure what this data means yet, but what we can hypothesize is that screens could inhibit certain aspects of a child’s development by narrowing their focus of interest and limiting their other means of exploration and learning.”

Concerned parents cannot realistically limit their children’s screen time while they are in school.  Many teachers require them to use their Chromebooks for the lessons.  Even in-person, I have observed other teachers giving their lessons almost all online. Not only that, students are frequenting their cellphones as well. Our district operates on a lightened bell schedule, so we dismiss kids at 1:10pm.  So, for about 6 hours in school the students are face-deep in their respective screens.

It’s hard to measure exactly how long they are on their phones the rest of the day, too.  Being that they get out of school at 1:10pm, they still have almost 11 hours left in the day. 

Nothing will ever be a perfect solution, especially in education.  As for district issued technology, whether it’s an iPad or laptop, the verdict on its effectiveness remains unknown. I’m wary of the seemingly wholesale adoption of 1-to-1 computing while its effect is so uncertain.

Lou Scataglia
Managing Editor for Chalkboard Review and Business Teacher in Pennsylvania.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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