The remarkable mainstream success of mobile devices – specifically tablets – opens up immense opportunities in education. If embraced by schools, they can overcome the expense and impracticality of desktop-bound computer hardware, lessen the premium on software and significantly raise the value of technology-aided education.
Proven and affordable As demonstrated with the recent text book expense crisis in Kenya, access to information is a key obstacle to raising education standards in Africa. Undeniably, information access is a less immediately pressing issue than access to water, good roads or land ownership. But perhaps government policy makers can be swayed by the fact that tablets are more affordable than is widely known.
iPads are admittedly not the best solution for state schools, but there are Android alternatives that cost half the price of Apple’s models, and must therefore be considered candidates for a government-subsidised distribution model. In schools that don’t qualify for subsidies, due to a legacy of privilege, another possibility is for learners to bring their own tablets to school. These can be integrated into the school’s network and custom app ‘store’. Private ownership is already becoming more attainable – some cellular contracts offer a tablet along with a handset, at a low premium. But, even these mechanisms still leave tablets out of reach for many poor sections of society, and state subsidies would be stretched to spread the tablet effect far and wide. However, there is evidence to suggest tablets with pre-loaded content are more cost-effective than sourcing print course material.
But the greatest news of all is that for approximately ksh10000, schools can buy an Android experience that compares satisfactorily to higher-end models. Major benefits Once the acquisition is made, the educational benefits of tablets quickly become evident. Low-cost, quick content Among the biggest benefits is the low cost and speed of rolling out tablet apps and content, compared to the PC software acquisition model. This is possible thanks to the app distribution model (downloads of low-cost, low-footprint apps). More content and choice App download stores, made popular by Apple, Google – and, to a lesser extent, Nokia and BlackBerry – have also had a huge impact on the accessibility of a wide spectrum of competing apps, congregating on a common store platform. Mobile apps further tend to be more vertically focused, versus the generic application mindset of the PC platform. The effect is a wealth of choice in affordable apps, with hardware and app vendors all competing for mindshare. Shareable, richer, trackable digital formats Tablet content is infinitely more shareable than print books due to the portability of digital formats and the omnipresence of the Internet. This makes sharing of non-copyrighted material between tablets virtually free, whereas sharing print books is impractical, subject to wear, and costly where distance is involved.
Digital has other advantages too – augmenting content with the aid of, for example, online search, academic research and online dictionaries adds enormous value, contributing to the retention and richness of the lesson. Finally, digital formats allow tracking of reading and studying patterns, which can be very instructive for guiding (and policing) self-study. World-changing education formula It is clear that the tablet platform and app ecosystem are among the great innovations of the new century. With the wave of secondary innovation accompanying the platform, tablets might just amount to a world-changing formula in education.
What do you think? Are tablets a viable means of improving education in a South African context? Should we be thinking about these technological advances when many rural schools don’t have the basic facilities?