news Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has promised that her Labor State Government will commit $5.7 million to deliver some 5,000 iPads to year 7 students across the state in a high-profile educational trial of the Apple tablets, should Labor retain power in the upcoming state election.
In a policy statement issued this afternoon (PDF) outlining the election pledge, Bligh’s Labor camp said the trial would be undertaken in 20 schools across the state and would be funded by the Queensland Education Trust, a fund being set up by the Government to funnel mining royalties into future development of the state.
Under the trial, up to 5,065 year 7 students will receive an iPad 2 (32GB Wi-Fi model) free. The students will be those attending one of 20 schools around the state which have been labelled ‘Flying Start’ schools due to their participation in that separate government program aimed at boosting educational outcomes. Following completion of the pilot, Labor would then evaluate the educational success of the initiative, with a view to providing iPads to more Queensland school students.
“These Year 7 students will be in their first year of junior secondary school, and we want to support their transition with cutting edge technology to support the new learning environment,” the statement reads. The use of tablet devices is skyrocketing, with 330 per cent growth in the last 12 months. It is estimated that more than 11 million Australians – approximately half the population – will be using a tablet device by 2016, and the Apple iPad is the clear market leader with 76 per cent of tablet sales last year.”
“iPad and equivalent tablet devices offer benefits over traditional laptops or netbooks for the classroom environment, including long battery life, improved interactivity, and higher screen qualities. This will help give students a flying start to their secondary education.”
A re-elected Bligh Government would put the iPad rollout out to tender within the first 100 days of its new term, using the process to ensure “maximum value for money”. The program will see the iPads come with an AppleCare protection plan (or equivalent), charging docks, “secure storage” and a device management solution.
In the statement, Bligh said education was constantly evolving and technology was constantly advancing, leading to a situation where information technology had “a huge role” to play in education. “We can do more than we ever imagined with technology in the classroom today,” the Premier said. “In order to realise the full potential of digital education, teachers, principals and students need up to date technology like laptops and new tablet devices.”
This, Bligh said, was why Labor had delivered laptops for school teachers through its Computers for Teachers program, which had seen the number of laptops for teachers in the state grow from around 1,500 to around 41,000. The state’s efforts in coalition with the Labor Federal Government had also seen the total numbers of computers in schools boosted to more than 280,000.
The iPad trial, Bligh said, would see Queensland schools keep pace with today’s technology and ensure schools got the technical support they needed to get the most out of technology in the classroom.
It may not be the first time which Education Queensland has trialled the iPad in classrooms. In September 2010, months after the iPad was first launched in Australia, the department said it was trialling “handheld computers”, although it did not confirm at that stage whether its trial involved iPads.
At the time, the Queensland Government confirmed that a dozen “small” schools are involved in a trial where “handheld” computers – and other devices such as computers, data loggers, MP3 recorders and USB microscopes — were used as education tools to compliment and enhance science classes. In addition, an unconfirmed number of secondary and primary schools were trialling the handheld devices in other fields literacy, maths, reading, writing, English as a second language and special needs classes.
“Handheld computers in schools are being used for individual and small group activities where students interact with educational apps,” David O’Hagan, Assistant Director-General Information and Technologies for the state’s Department of Education and Training. “The devices are small and portable which makes them easy to use for educational activities that take place outside the classroom and on field trips.”
It’s also not the first time a state in Australia has kicked off a major trial of the technology. In May 2010, Victorian Premier John Brumby announced the state would buy more than 500 of Apple’s iPad devices, to be distributed to eight schools in the state in a trial of the technology. That trial is believed to be ongoing.
The news also comes as Apple has recently launched a strong push into the education sector globally, releasing new educational textbooks through its iBookstore last month as well as the software needed to create them. Most of the titles are not available in Australia, however, although some were in late January.
iPads make for a great election promise. They’re a visible sign of new technology entering the education system, they cost a decent amount but not too much (so they’re perfect for small trials) and best of all, they’re sexy, with that patented Apple reality distortion field hovering around them waiting to suck up votes from happy parents. Of course, the iPad election promise didn’t work out too well for the last state premier who tried it (Brumby in Victoria), and we doubt it’ll save Bligh’s bacon ;)
However, as education technologists globally have lamented for decades now, it’s not enough to just throw technology into schools without supporting infrastructure. For example; do all of Queensland’s schools have Wi-Fi infrastructure to support the iPads? How will that infrastructure handle the load? Are the necessary textbooks for year 7 available on iPad? How will the management software function? How will it differentiate between apps purchased personally by students, and those purchased by the education department? And so on.
All of the issues of corporate tablet manageability apply to this iPad rollout, and Bligh hasn’t addressed any of them in this policy document. To be honest, I doubt her team really understands the issues to start with.