What were you doing at the age of five?
If you were anything like me, there is a good chance that you were sword dueling with sticks, climbing trees, falling out of trees, throwing berries at parked cars, and running in circles. Great, those are all perfectly acceptable 5-year-old activities. I also distinctly remember being exposed to computers at a young age. My family Apple II had a Muppet keyboard (or was it Sesame Street?) and dysentery was the greatest of scourges to my Oregon Trail party, the educational game of one family’s adventure across 19th century America while braving the dangers of the unsettled west including wild animals, hunger, and bowel disease.
So now I try to imagine what I would do at age 5 with my very own iPad, and the answer is, not much. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely accurate. The iPad would probably be the greatest device I ever had for about 2 weeks, after which it would be in multiple pieces swimming in a pool of orange juice at the bottom of my backpack.
This was my first thought when I heard about Auburn, Maine’s pilot program where $200,000 will be spent on 285 children for iPad 2s and related expenses to help teach reading and writing. So, $700 per student will be spent on a device that will probably never survive the school year. On the other hand, it amounts to 2 dollars a day per student, which really isn’t a huge amount of money considering the school budget for this year is $36 million. To put it into perspective, the $200,000 experiment (which covers the entire kindergarten class in the district) will cost about as much as gasoline for one semester. I’d argue that the comparison is a fair one, as both the iPad’s and the gasoline should be considered expendable.
It is important to remember that this is a pilot program, a test run. Before people get too upset over wasted tax dollars, they should keep in mind that if the program fails, for whatever reason, it won’t be continued. I think the biggest concern should be if it succeeds. If the Auburn School Department concludes that iPads really do improve a childrens ability to learn as young as 5 years old, how much of the school budget are taxpayers willing to invest in technology?