IPad Wrong Choice for Education

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This letter was published in the Needham Times on May 22, 2014. The version below corrects one error in the original. The erroneous version referred to a $2.5 million budget, but that budget included many items, of which the iPad program was only one. --Will Rico

I was disappointed to learn that the Needham Town Meeting approved an iPad program for public school students, requiring an out-of-pocket expense of $500 for many families.

Some parents have been misled to believe that the iPad is an educational tool. However, the truth is that the iPad is first and foremost an advertising platform. Laws that protect children from certain types of television advertising simply do not exist for iPad “apps.” Parents are unaware of the full range of ads their children are exposed to on iPads.

The iPad is a poor choice for teaching technology because it is a locked down system that actively discourages experimentation and tinkering – both necessary prerequisites for true learning. The iPad is referred to as a “jail” in the tech community because only software approved by Apple can be installed on the system. The underlying source code is completely hidden and there is no way for parents to know whether spyware is embedded into the supposedly educational software running on these devices.

In contrast, consider the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) computer, which runs free and open source software. Each piece of software on the OLPC has a button children can press to see the underlying source code and make changes. It is designed not only to teach children to be users of software, but to experiment and create technology. This proven model (distributed already to over 2 million children worldwide) comes at a fraction of the $500 expense parents are being forced to take on for Needham's experimental iPad program.

As Needham parents learn more about the underlying educational, technological and ethical issues at stake, I am sure they will realize that the priority should not be Apple's profits, but empowering our children to explore and learn.

Will Rico

Please note the author of this letter organizes Boston's free software meetup. More information at [1]