[Fsfe-ie] IBEC requiring laptops for all secondary students.

David O'Callaghan david.ocallaghan at cs.tcd.ie
Thu Sep 1 18:55:31 CEST 2005


On this topic, two essays from the FSF might be of interest:

 * http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/ebooks.html
 * http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html

On to IBEC's press release: While the techy in me says "free laptops,
cool!" my more conservative side thinks that we shouldn't necessarily
accept IBEC's premise that giving school children laptops instead of
paper books will have an educational benefit. From the IBEC PR:

> The advantages of increased use of ICT in schools are clearly evident

But the press release says nothing about the possible disadvantages:
* The expense for the taxpayer (relative to state-provided textbooks,
more funding for libraries, etc.). Costs of computers, power,
technicians, etc. The other side of this could be the negative effects
of "sponsorship" deals with e.g. Microsoft and Dell, to defray the costs
introducing yet more advertising into the classroom.
* The added complexity of increasing the amount of ICT in the classroom:
technical problems with computers, projectors, etc. 
* The distraction factor: passing notes in class replaced by instant
messaging; research replaced by aimless web surfing.

> and include:
> · access to global information sources;

Many of which are of dubious quality. Some recent research seems to show
that school students are very poor at determining the quality of
material found online, treating it all as equally trustworthy.
Old-fashioned paper libraries tend to filter out at least some of the
rubbish, even if the remaining stuff has an "establishment" bias.

> · the development of skills required for competitiveness of the

While I'm sure IBEC thinks this is a worthy goal for state education, we
should not blindly accept it. Do we want students to grow up to be
well-informed broadly-educated critical thinkers, or is the aim to
produce workers with the skills the market (i.e. the corporations)

> · the inclusion of geographically remote schools and disadvantaged

Great, but don't make this a substitute for real education

> · the quality of the education experience;

Not sure how it is "clearly evident" that ICT will help this. I really
hope they're not talking about PowerPoint presentations! 

> · support for the transition from second to third level education;

ICT is the least of the worries here. Maybe IBEC should instead be
demanding that all schools are non-denominational and co-educational and
that the students are  treated as young adults.

> · communication and collaboration between educational institutions.

Great, but of course the core education of students should take
precedence over novelty projects with video conferencing, etc.

Now for the IFSO press release. I think this is a good idea and agree
with most of what's said:

Déardaoin, 2005-09-01 ag 12:15 +0100, scríobh Éibhear:
> =========================8<----------------------
>    School Laptops and Freedoms.
>  "If the idea becomes
>    popular, the size of the discounts will progressively become smaller
>    until the electronic versions of the books are no less expensive that
>    the paper versions," said [yet another IFSO apparatchik].

Do we have any evidence for this last statement? The other problems are
bad enough, so we don't need to speculate about this sort of thing.

>    Regarding the laptops themselves, [...] "In the
>    light of an increasing culture of monitoring activities, students who
>    think they are being spied on by their teachers and the vendors of the
>    software applications on the laptops will be inhibited in their
>    natural desire to learn, especially with such a powerful educational
>    tool as a computer. Students should not be allowed to believe they
>    could gain a criminal record, as in the case of some high-school
>    students in Kutztown[2] in Pennsylvania, for exploring their
>    computers." 

I'm sure IBEC would deny that they would support such intrusive
measures, so perhaps we could change this a little. I'll have a go

> IFSO believes that school laptops should contain a wide
>    range of Free Software applications to facilitate this, and the
>    administration of these computers should encourage the use of Free
>    Software for all school activities.

Yes. And I think the use of Free Software should play a bigger part in
this press release. We should at least say that such a scheme should not
be used as an opportunity to tie schools to a single software vendor
(ahem) or, indeed, hardware vendor. 

It's not clear to me how this scheme would operate: Do the students (or
their parents) own the laptops or are they borrowed from the school? Do
students take laptops home or just use them in school?


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