Schools throughout the country have recognized the value of providing laptops to students for many years now. The state of Maine was particularly proactive about such initiatives, establishing a one-to-one student to computer ratio in its seventh and eighth grade classrooms in the early 2000s and expanding the program to high schools starting in 2004. Other states began to gradually approach universal laptop provision around the same time, and the initiative is still being pursued in many areas of the country.
Generally, in school districts that can afford the expense, each student at target grade levels is provided with a laptop computer at the beginning of the school year, which is used in class and taken home for the purposes of homework, internet research, and general use. The continuous hand-on experience that this provides is useful to students in that it helps them prepare for future college and workplace responsibilities that will no doubt be even more technologically-focused than they are today.
Being able to afford the expense is crucial however, and it means that a number of districts may have recognized the value of the program and committed themselves to implementing it in their own schools but may still find themselves incapable of achieving the desired one-to-one ratio.
Beyond Computer Labs
Some districts that have been successful with implementation of this program have argued that it is no more expensive than setting up a traditional computer lab. It’s easy enough to see where this argument might come from, considering that in addition to the cost of computers themselves, labs demand investment in classroom furniture, additional printers and other hardware, and perhaps dedicated computer lab faculty. One might also take into account opportunity costs, such as the potential alternative uses of the classroom space itself.
Still, it’s awfully glib to say that if a district is able to afford computer labs it ought to be able to provide laptops to each student. The expense depends a great deal on the size of the school and its student to faculty ratio. Computer labs, after all, were never expected to serve every student at the same time.
Federal funds for technological improvements are not what they were when these sorts of initiatives were just getting started. Districts may find they have fewer options for paying the hefty price tag associated with providing laptops to students. One Catholic school system in Iowa made an initial expenditure of 500,000 dollars in pursuing universal laptop provision.
Even apart from the actual purchase of the requisite number of computers, there are other, smaller expenses that need to be taken into account, including the infrastructure for wireless internet in classrooms, sufficient bandwidth to service the entire school population, and classroom furniture to keep the computers safe and secure when not in use.
Despite the often prohibitively high costs of achieving a one-to-one ratio of school computers to students, it seems that few educators or administrators would argue that it is a goal not worth pursuing, in a world where technology is increasingly a natural part of the education that young people need to be successful and productive members of society.
Now that you know more about laptop provision, you may be interested in learning about classroom furniture that can accompany such district improvements. Guest post written by CJ.