Plan Realistically For Computers

Machines don’t teach children in school. Teachers do. Viewing technologically advanced equipment such as computers as cure-alls for problems in public education – or even as priorities – is foolish.

Nevertheless, thoughtful use of teaching aids such as computers and the Internet can benefit young people. At one time, remember, textbooks were advanced technology. Educators who did not learn how to use them appropriately were not serving their pupils’ best interests.

With the coming of a new school year, technology is back in the headlines in some areas of West Virginia. In Raleigh County, for example, every student going back to class this fall will be given a new iPad.

County school officials reportedly think the new devices will work wonders. Some teachers aren’t as certain of that.

Both sides of the argument are right, of course.

Computers such as iPads connected to the Internet have proved themselves to be helpful aids to education. They can replace textbooks entirely. They can open whole new worlds of knowledge – and pedagogy- if used properly.

But as the possibilities for education multiply, so do the potential pitfalls.

Teachers must be prepared to make the best use of computers and the Internet. Schools must provide support services including software and repair. And there must be realization that, just like with textbooks that periodically must be updated, computers don’t last forever. In fact, some schools that have experimented with giving laptop computers to all students have found they did not anticipate how many would be broken, lost or, in some cases, taken and sold by students or their parents.

All that may seem like mere common sense. But experience in too many school technology projects shows such prudence is not always displayed.

In other words, simply coming up with the money to hand every child a new iPad is far from all that needs to be done.

Similar initiatives have been undertaken during recent years in other schools. After a year or so in which they seem to achieve good results, little or nothing more is heard about them.

Northern Panhandle education administrators should monitor projects such as Raleigh County’s carefully. Before anything similar is done here, the potential pitfalls as well as the marvelous possibilities need to be understood.