Parents and teachers: beware tablets

There is no doubt that technology has changed the way we live – from smart fridges to cloud computing and the Internet of Things, technology permeates every aspect of our lives. It therefore makes sense that educational institutions are evolving to encompass technology in order to better prepare learners for the high-tech world waiting for them.

For the average school learner, having a personal computer is imperative. Digital textbooks are fast becoming a standard, and the skills required in the modern workplace necessitate an understanding of how to use computers.

However, Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings, says that parents and teachers should beware the use of tablets in place of laptops in the educational arena. “Tablets have their place – and it’s in primary schools,” he says. “Tablets are a great tool for the consumption of content, but are still largely ineffectual for true content creation. They have no place in high schools, where learners move from being a consumer of content to a producer of content, and where they are required to use computers for a lot more than just reading a digital textbook or taking notes.”

Firth points out that fundamental skills that learners need to take into the workplace with them, such as typing and creating presentations, are far simpler to learn on true productivity tools that are created with this type of content creation in mind: laptops. “Touch-typing is extremely difficult to do on the touch screens of tablets, and copying and pasting can be very frustrating without a mouse for accuracy. Research shows that the average typing speed on a computer keyboard is around 75 to 80 words per minute, while the average for a mobile device is 35 words per minute with predictive text. While today’s children are extremely tech-savvy and their fingers fly over their phone screens when texting friends, these figures prove the efficiency of 10-finger typing over the two thumb method tablets encourage.”

He adds that having something that’s light and portable is important for students who have to lug their computer around all day, but that laptops are getting smaller, enabling the means and method to create content without losing any of the productivity benefits. In addition, tablets may be cheaper than laptops, but do not offer all of the software, applications and functionality required.

“A lot of the tablet fad in schools has to do with it being seen as the latest must-have gadget, but is leading to the same kind of misperception on the part of parents that proprietary software has engendered. While their thinking is correct in wanting students to learn how to use Excel and Word, the method is wrong – they should be requiring that their children learn how to use spreadsheets and documents. It’s not about the technology as a tool for teaching, but about learning how to use the technology,” Firth says.

“Teachers and parents need to be aware of these distinctions. A tablet is not a suitable replacement for the productivity tool school leavers will be using in the workplace.”

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