Why Do Schools Buy Crappy Tablet PCs?

This is how I imagine it goes (though see update at end!):

  • Someone high up in the government sees that kids somewhere like using iPads — perhaps even for educational purposes.
  • That person sets the process of “getting kids touch computers” in motion.
  • A committee agrees on a checklist of requirements by which tenders can be judged.
  • Vendors present their tenders.
  • One of the presented options ticks more boxes than the others, and is chosen.

This process means well, but misses its goal by a wide berth. Checklists aren’t completely worthless, but if the people who draw them up aren’t razor-focused on the needs of the kids rather than their own jobs, it’s going to be deeply flawed. If you get long-entrenched IT people on the list, you might end up with truly poisonous, irrelevant nonsense on the list:

  • can connect to wired networks (because we haven’t deployed wireless yet)
  • can use legacy Windows XP software (because Mr Jones likes Minesweeper)
  • comes with Comic Sans (because it’s “friendly”)

If they’d focus on the kids, they’d come up with a checklist containing items like:

  • weighs as little as possible
  • can go through a school day without being charged
  • is simple to use and hard to mess up
  • allow kids to comfortably read textbooks on-screen
  • allow teachers to discover and share new software
  • allow kids to discover and share new software

…none of which they’ll get with a tablet laptop. Instead, they end up with heavy systems that don’t last the day, that come with some limited demo software, and which will eventually be binned with the same software and nothing new. The teachers will end up doing IT support instead of teaching, and kids won’t care about the laptops at all. The “tablet” part will end up as merely a box on a checklist that nobody uses. Art class will try, until they discover that the provided software is MS Paint.

Simply adding “touch” to existing solutions doesn’t change them. It doesn’t encourage kids to read more. It doesn’t reduce the teachers’ IT support burden. And as many teachers have discovered, you don’t revolutionise education by providing an electronic whiteboard. Doing “the same things we’ve always done, but with computers” isn’t going to lead to anything revolutionary for students.

Finally, here’s the big checklist item they haven’t considered.

  • allow the kids to do things we haven’t even thought of yet

That’s why they should get iPads.

UPDATE: Apparently it’s simpler than that. A source tells me that a very large company (that I won’t identify because I don’t have a lawyer handy) routinely bribed high-up government staff to keep Apple out of NSW schools. So there you go. Journalists: investigate!


On Siri, the intelligent assistant in my new iPhone 4S, after I’d asked it to play various tracks and albums:

“How does she find all this music?”