The dangers of a uniform policy

Its not often I take issue with what a specific school does. I do try and avoid it as I don’t know their context or any of the pressures they face. So what I write here is a general discussion of issues related to the implementation of whole school tech projects, specifically those that involve a device for every child.

I don’t intent to get involved in a discussion about the merits or otherwise of such a policy. If a school has chosen to go down that route then I shall assume they have considered the benefits or otherwise and have come down on the side of “in our school every child having a device is beneficial to their learning.” It is clearly an arguable point, but I don’t intend to argue it here.

This all arose because it was publicised that a school had made it compulsory for students to have a Chromebook, which they would purchase through the school at a cost of £149 per year (there were also reduced costs for some groups of students. I have two principle issues with this.

The first is the cost.

I said I would assume that the school had done its homework and established that students would benefit from having such a device. I would assume that included in this there was a cost analysis. This would have shown the school that the devices were the most cost effective way of delivering their curriculum. If this is the case then I have a simple question.

Why are the parents paying for it?

We have a well established system. Education is free. It’s a simple concept. It could be argued that the purchase of a device is little different to buying a uniform, but students have to wear clothes and by and large a uniform is as cheap as anything else students would wear (don’t get me started on this as I am quite anti-uniform, but that’s another discussion). Surely if the school has decided that this is the best way to deliver its curriculum then it is a cost the school should bear.

The second reason is more fundamental.

The benefit of technology to education is not in the specific device, it’s in the affordances that the device permits. Now, I’m sure that schools that have gone down the whole cohort purchase route will have considered this. There are obvious benefits to the school in all students having the same device (which is another argument for them to pay for them) but there are also advantages in the student having the device of their own choice that’s fits in with their own context.

Schools should concentrate on the affordances and utilise them to best effect. If a specific piece of functionality they want is not available for all devices then it is likely that functionality is either not yet fully formed or that it will not survive. A specific device is not required in order to access the internet and take advantage of the world-wide-web. Predominantly my devices are Apple. My children’s devices are a mix of Apple, Android and Windows-based. The most used services in the house are those provided by Google.

The best device for a child is probably the one they are most familiar with and that they use for their own reasons. The one that is most likely to integrate their learning with their life and make doing their homework as natural as Instagramming their night out. That is not necessarily the one that will make the life of the school network manager the easiest.

I recognise that there are tensions here and the argument is not always one way, but the real world is full of a multiplicity of devices, as are most workplaces and they seem to manage nicely enough, thank you very much. Schools need to learn from those that use technology the best.

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5 thoughts on “The dangers of a uniform policy

  1. The way you cater for tasks that require different affordances is that you structure your tech estate to cater for them. There are few ad hoc learning activities that require a full powered desktop/keyboard/mouse combo. Those activities that do tend to be done in groups with students so can easily be catered for using a minimum number of fixed rooms. This will be necessary if you go down any student device route other than a full-powered laptop for all. Going down the one device fits all involves too many compromises.

    I understand the issues that network managers face – the lack of forward strategies in schools are a real problem. If a school doesn’t have eaten year IT infrastructure plan then it doesn’t have a plan.

    I’m not convinced that the single platform has a huge impact on costs. The type of device used doesn’t impact the networking requirement, only the maintenance of devices. Which, in my view, should be outsourced anyway. And are only a cost for the school if the school owns them. And the fact is that families already pick up a huge chunk of the tab through their taxes, so I don’t see why some should be asked to pay more.

    As you know, there was such an agency. Which (he says controversially) I one of the reasons edtech is in it’s current mess. I’m just going to go away now and watch my number of followers fall by the minute….

    1. I’ve seen it outsourced, and there are times it can work and plenty of times it doesn’t, often bringing in that single, common denominator that we talked about … but at a larger cost with less flexibility.

    2. I’ve seen it outsourced, and there are times it can work and plenty of times it doesn’t, often bringing in that single, common denominator that we talked about … but at a larger cost with less flexibility.

      1. The interesting angle on this going forward is how it works in a MAT model, when the economies of scale can kick in.

  2. One of the problems is that many schools fail to invest in both infrastructure and support expertise to allow a multiplicity of devices, never mind ensuring that learning activities can be done across a range of devices.
    If you leave it as completely agnostic for devices how do you cater for tasks that should be done on a reasonable size keyboard, suitable with chrome books / iPads / surface / laptops, but end up with students wanting to work on phablets instead?
    Schools also have a responsibility to protect data … Having a suitable infrastructure to protect this is essential, but schools still fail to invest in this too … Or if they do there is a failure to realise that an initial capital investment needs to have a refresh policy in place too.

    It is not Network Managers being awkward … More a case of forward planning … and often left screaming in the wind.

    Those that do invest and plan realise that it can be unsustainable to fund it all … Unless the families pick up a chunk of the tab. By keeping to a single platform they keep the cost as low as possible. Not ideal but a compromise.

    If only there was an agency that looked into cost models for IT infrastructure and so on in education … 😉 (e.g. the models from 2009 used for the old XP Tablet PCs still sort of work, but need some tweaks)

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