The Johnston County schools will soon lift their ban on students bringing their laptop computers, tablet computers and other electronic devices to school. It is a wise and perhaps overdue move but one that also raises serious questions.
We say “perhaps overdue” because before ending the ban, each school needed to make sure its wireless network could handle hundreds of new users simultaneously. But it’s true too that students with data plans attached to their electronic devices could have been using them and benefiting from them all along, assuming their parents would bear the cost.
In any event, the technology contained in laptops, tablets and smartphones is simply too valuable to leave at home. It’s no exaggeration to say the world’s accumulated knowledge is just a mouse click or finger swipe away, and the volume of teaching tools available to device owners is exploding. Apple’s App Store alone has more than 40,000 education apps. Google’s Android store has more than 50,000.
To deny students access to that knowledge and those teaching tools would be inexcusable, especially in the current education-spending environment. As educators like to note, state lawmakers are reducing dollars for textbooks and lifting the cap on class sizes in all but the lowest grades. The technology owned by students could heal any harm caused by those decisions.
The schools do, however, face some thorny questions. Will students be out of luck if their devices run out of battery power, or will the schools allow students to recharge them? If students can recharge their batteries, who’s going to pay for that extra electricity usage? And what about students who cannot afford electronic devices? Will the schools try to get technology into their hands? If so, how will they do so and at what cost to Johnston County taxpayers?
These will not be easy questions to answer, and the answers could be expensive. But the payoff from technology – properly deployed and used – could be huge, and Johnston school leaders deserve credit for taking the steps needed to make that payoff possible.