NCLB and iPads in Sioux Falls

Children don’t have internet access at home? Big government can help:

School may be out, but Sioux Falls administrators are already thinking about how they’ll enhance learning for next year, particularly for families who don’t have internet readily available.

They’re buying dozens of iPads and implementing a program called iLearn in a handful of schools where not all students are connected at home.

Taxpayer funds, graciously donated by the federal government, will be spent to the tune of $150,000 to support this initiative in Sioux Falls for children who are failing to match up with the goals set by No Child Left Behind. Based on the numbers, this is $1250 per unit (for something which is selling for as little as $499 for the second generation of the device). Now, the article does not say the devices will be 3G, but they might be, based on the following:

Each school will get 24 iPads to be used in classrooms during the day, and then selected students will be able to take them home at night.

“Students will have specific sites and applications they’ll utilize at home and those will be monitored by teachers much the same as what happens in the classroom,” Homan said.

One way that these students (from situations where they do not have internet connectivity at home) will be able to connect to “specific sites” from home will be if the iPads are 3G. That is, if they are essentially very large cell phones which are always connected to a mobile phone network. Another option would be if these devices are WiFi connected to something like Redwood Wireless (which pretty well covers the city).

In either case, the cost of these iPads is not simply the purchase price of the devices. It would seem that the school district will also need to cover the monthly subscription for either a 3G or WiFi network to ensure always-on connectivity. I do not know if that is included in the $150K, or will just be one of those things which gets added to the school system’s operating budget.

Interestingly, this move by the school system is in keeping with the rapid expansion of “human rights” as defined by everyone’s favorite non-governmental body:

The United Nations counts internet access as a basic human right in a report that bears implications both to on-going events in the Arab Spring and to the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers. Acting as special rapporteur, a human rights watchdog role appointed by the UN Secretary General, Frank La Rue takes a hard line on the importance of the internet asĀ “an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress.” Presented to the General Assembly on Friday, La Rue’s report comes as the capstone of a year’s worth of meetings held between La Rue and local human rights organizations around the world, from Cairo to Bangkok.

I am not against internet access–though I believe calling it a “basic human right” is wrongheaded. Technology can be quite helpful–but these children do not need iPads. If they need to work on homework, pencil and paper are much cheaper, probably more effective, and much less likely to be abused, destroyed, or otherwise devalued for purposes of education.

HT to NT