The student looked up from his new HP Stream computer, a low powered , low cost Windows laptop.
He was in 11th grade and seemed to really be interested in what was happening on the device, which if I recall, was a Khan academy video on some math concept. Our district had just rolled out our first 1:1 technology initiative and this student was one of the 18,000 high school students on the receiving end.
“How do you like your laptop?” I asked him.
He paused for a second. My first thought was we have taught that “stranger danger” stuff too well with these kids. He wasn’t going to talk to me. He looked at the computer and then back at me, the old man from central office who he had no idea who I was or how I was intricately involved with the delivery of that device into his hands.
“This device has changed my family Mister.” he said.
I knew that by providing these laptops to our students, many of them would be bringing home the first computer that their families had ever had. I wasn’t prepared for that answer. I was expecting an answer like “It helps me with my homework” or even a simple “It’s cool.” I wasn’t ready for a family being changed.
“How so?” I asked. “How did it change your family?
“We used it to get my dad a job.” He replied. “My dad was wanting get a job at a repair shop. But they only took job applications online. They wouldn’t take his application in the store. They told him to fill out the online application. He couldn’t do it.”
He didn’t have to say much more. Many of our students live in homes below the poverty level. Having laptop computers, much less an internet connections is often a luxury way beyond the means of many.
“Since we didn’t have a computer, he thought he couldn’t get that job. Then they handed these out at school the same week my Dad was looking for the job. I took my dad to McDonald’s and we got on their wifi network. He was able to apply for the job using the laptop, and he got the job.” He looked back and me and smiled.
“So the laptop changed my family.”
After hearing the young man’s story it became apparent to me that getting technology into the hands of kids in many cases wasn’t just about giving them access to a tool for academic purposes. It was about equalizing the academic playing field and in the course of doing that, equalizing the social playing field as well.
Many, especially those that were educated in public schools before technology became ubiquitous, question whether or not so much money should be spent on things like laptops for students. Indeed, billions of dollars are spent annually across the country and there are some studies that seem to indicate that technology in and of itself makes little or no difference academically.
Those studies are short sighted at best. Pencils, in and by themselves, make no difference academically. Air conditioning makes little or no difference academically. Indeed, even textbooks make little or no difference BY THEMSELVES. But the right tools combined with excellent teaching makes a world of difference, especially for our students that have to do without, due to circumstances beyond their control.
Our students, no matter their socio-economic status, are going to be living in a world of more technology, not less. They will be living in a world where artificial intelligence controlled devices will change the world in almost every area.
To deny students access to at least the most fundamental technology, and that means a basic mobile device like a laptop, is the equivalent of denying them textbooks and pencils. It is educational malpractice.
You can’t change the lives of students and families for the better by not providing the tools to make their lives better.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.