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CQ principal defends controversial tech roll-out at school

A HIGH-tech, expensive item on 2018's back-to-school book list has Central Queensland parents worried their child will go without.

Between the HB pencils and notebooks, Yeppoon State High School (YSHS) has added iPads for Year 7-8 students, and laptops through to Year 12.

It comes as the school introduces the Department of Education's (DET) Bring Your Own 'x' (BYOx) program in 2018.

Though not compulsory, the program allows students who have a "suitable personal technology" to use one device across their school subjects and at home.

Rockhampton IT expert Bruce Kerr joined the chorus of parents concerned the initiative could see some students left behind, particularly those financially disadvantaged.

Retailer JB Hi-Fi's lowest-priced 32GB iPad (as required) starts at $663, and climbs to $1918 for the top-of-the-range model.

As book lists start to circulate on social media, some parents have said they can't afford a device, let-alone the added software, anti-virus and insurance costs given the school "will accept no responsibility for the security or safety of the device".

Mr Kerr struggled to offer easy-to-digest advice for parents based on the program's device selection requirements, which he said "hardly gives parents any guidelines whatsoever".

"The document recommends everything from iPad (tablets) right through to high-end laptops with no set operation system, hard drive size or even the inclusion of a keyboard; recommended but still optional," Mr Kerr said.

"This is not right as parents will only be further confused.

"As it stands students will bring along chocolate all sorts and have random problems; they will even have different operating systems and they can be subject of petty jealousies or feel left behind if their device is not performing.

"Where is the logic?"

YSHS principal Ruth Miller assured the decision stemmed from research of four large, secondary schools in the south-east corner from a "range of socio-economic communities".

 

Yeppoon State High School principal Ruth Miller.
Yeppoon State High School principal Ruth Miller.

"In addition, our school has worked very closely with a large primary school in Brisbane which has over 900 student devices, in terms of the teaching approaches that best harness the technology," Ms Miller said.

"The BYOD is part of our school's long-term teaching approach which ensures that students are supported both in the basics, as well as ensuring we are preparing our students to work collaboratively with innovative approaches."

The school specified students must bring a device which meets the "minimum specifications required by the school", but does not recommend a particular model or supplier.

Ms Miller assured teachers would support students, and said one of the main advantages was heavy text books could be replaced with digital versions.

"The trial in a Year 7 class for semester 2 last year proved to be very successful with engagement levels of all students exceptional," she said.

"The iPads purchased by the school for the trial are going into an equity pool for this year.

"Families will have an opportunity to apply to the school after term 1, in order to receive a device through this pool."

The DET rolled out the program since 2014 and provided research, case studies and information on various BYOx models to support principals and school communities to implement their own program.

In the four years since, BYOx has drawn a range of criticisms, including that it requires parents "fork out" for the technology.

Reports have suggested it is unhealthy for students to spend long periods of time on laptops; with possible adverse effects on cognitive development, eye healthy and posture.

When asked to respond to these concerns, the DET did not provide comment.

Mr Kerr suggested a better alternative was the Department "strike a deal" with one supplier and roll out a standardised device across the state, rather than put the onus on parents.

"If they choose the right model e.g. Windows 10, Intel i5, 8GB ram, 250GB SSD, 13.3" screen - no fancy detachable screens - then it would be robust, reliable, have plenty of speed and capacity and each school would then have new one available year round," he said.

A DET spokesperson said they were unable to identify all the Central Queensland schools which had adopted the program as the decision is made at a local level by principals in consultation with the school communities.

They said the aim was to prepare students for future careers, especially those heavily technology dependent, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

"Parents who have questions or concerns about BYOx programs in their school are encouraged to speak with their child's school principal," a spokesperson said.

ABOUT 'BRING YOUR OWN DEVICE'

Years 7-8:

  • iPad (not mini), wi-fi model only with 32GB minimum (128GB recommended).
  • Purchased on or after September 1, 2017 iOS 10 or later
  • 6-plus hours battery life
  • Extras include protective case, insurance for accidental damage, loss, theft

Years 9-12 (not specialised)

  • iPad requirements the same as Years 7-8, keyboard recommended
  • Windows, Apple Mac or iPad
  • Dual-band (2.4 & 5 GHz), wireless capabilities
  • 100+GB hard drive, 32GB minimum
  • Anti-virus is parent's choice
  • Other: Laptop - Mouse, case, accidental damage, loss & theft insurance, 3 year warranty, external hard drive for backups

NOTE: List incomplete, see school's website for full details



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