Apple’s unveiling of Apple’s iBooks 2 on January 19, 2012 prompted me to begin this particular series of posts with a reference to Smart boards. The availability of the new iPad app, allowing any iPad user to download interactive, 3-d, ‘flippable’ images, was launched with the press release statement that the “iPad may be our most exciting education product yet”. The introduction of widescreen portable smart boards for the classroom was heralded with much of the same fanfare a few years ago, and unquestionably did represent a similar kind of monumental shift in the capacity to deliver a wealth of information in a variety of engaging ways. However, with the launch of iBooks 2, and the anticipation that a new version of the iPad is not far behind, focus has shifted from what can be taught from the front of the classroom to what can be offered at each individual desk.
We have spoken before in this Blog, and will again, about equity of opportunity in education. Now a few years into the introduction of Smart Boards, we could map their distribution across the province and probably find considerable overlap with a map of wealth distribution. School communities with a strong fundraising base have been able go beyond the restrictions of board allocated budgets and supplement what can be made available. At least where a school has been able to do so, everyone in the class has benefitted equally, because once purchased, a Smart Board can be accessed by everyone in the room.
The use of the iPad as a learning platform offers a wealth of potential, for all those “I’s” who have a “Pad”, but may create a learning deficit for those who do not. Unfortunately, without significant policy direction coupled with financial resources, it is easy to imagine that the distribution pattern will not be unlike that of the Smart Board, only in additional to inequities between schools, we could also see inequities within schools and even within classrooms. Notwithstanding talk of “pilot projects”, corporate funding and all the money saved by not printing textbooks, school boards are a long way from being able to sustainably deliver this kind of initiative in manner that is equitable for all students.
We recently saw the release of a report on the First Nations education system, which pointed to the significant underfunding and poor outcomes in aboriginal education. Many First Nations schools are located in remote areas where, in addition to their numerous other challenges, they lack effective and/or affordable access to the internet. Apple would like us to agree that the iPad and iBooks are game changers. The work of the National Panel on First Nations Elementary and Secondary Education begs the question whether the focus should be on “leveling the playing field” before “changing the game”.
The Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy includes socio-economic status as an essential pillar, and mandates that all boards not only have their own equity and inclusive education policy addressing this and other barriers to success, but that they align all other boards policies, procedures, guidelines and practices in accordance with these principles.
In addressing these and other imperatives, system leaders will be balancing the need to keep their students engaged, their teachers trained, and at the same time adhere to collective agreements, an Education Act which precludes charging for access to a public education, Ministry of Education guidelines which place limits on corporate donations and fundraising initiatives which increase operating costs, and policies that mandate transparent but time-consuming purchasing processes.
Creating system capacity to respond to those playing “catch-up” while balancing the enthusiasm of those eager to “reach ahead” will continue to challenge policy makers in this year which has begun with the Drummond Report’s recommendations for system-wide fiscal restraint.
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