Since When Are iPads School Supplies?

I think my parents had it pretty easy when it came to buying school supplies – pens, pencils, erasers, glue, a ruler, crayons/colour pencils, a couple of Hilroy scribblers, a Heritage Notebook for homework, binders, loose-leaf, calculator, indoor sneakers, a backpack to put it all in and we were good to go for the year.  

As a parent in this, the age of technology, I’m feeling a bit shafted.  Last night I went to a meeting at my oldest daughter’s school.  She’s in grade 7 at a public school here in rural NS with an enrollment of about 500 students from grades 7-12.  As parents we were told the meeting was an information session to discuss a new program they want to start called TELP (Technology Engagement & Learning Program) which would require all parents of grade 7 students to purchase an iPad for their student to use everyday at school.  Parents would have their choice of purchasing a regular iPad or a Mini and would have the option to pay either $25 or $15/ month for 2 years depending on the model they chose.  If they already had an iPad they could use that, but would have to pay for the educational software apps that would be used in the classroom.  A case would not be provided so that would be an added expense and if your iPad got stolen, lost, or broken you’d have to replace it at your expense or pay the $100 add-on for insurance.  The program would start in January and there was no guarantee the program would continue the following year into grade 8.

I don’t question the value of students learning to use technology.  What I do question, however, is the ethics of a public school expecting parents to provide an iPad as a basic school supply when we live in a community where poverty is rampant, food banks can’t keep up with the demand, school breakfast and lunch programs are being maxed out, affordable housing is a huge issue, and a coalition focused on children and youth that I am part of have been advocating to minimize the cost of school supplies for the past two years because so many families are pushed to the limit and just can’t provide the basics. 

Can I afford to buy the iPad? Yes.  Can ALL parents afford to?  Absolutely, without question, not.  For some people $15/month is pocket change.  For others, it is the difference between milk or pop in their fridge, a prescription they need but can’t afford,  KD and wieners for supper or nothing at all for the week, being able to fill their tank with gas or paying someone for a ride because they don’t have a car, giving their child pizza money so one day a week they can fit in like everyone else, etc.  For some people $15/month is a LOT of money especially in a community where several major employers have shut down in the last year and more job loss is expected.

The school admitted during this meeting that they can’t guarantee that they will be able to provide those who are unable to pay for an iPad.  They have some agreement with the supplier that for every 18 iPads purchased by parents they’ll receive 2 free which won’t be enough to ensure each child has one of their own to use. This is the part that really annoys me because it means that the kids having to share very clearly become identified as the ‘have-nots’ and the school has systematically created one more environment to make those kids and their parents/guardians feel bad about themselves. 

I was a poor kid.  I know what it feels like to be the have-not and it SUCKS.  I suppose that’s the reason I refuse to support any program with the potential to make a child feel that way.  

I assumed that after this information session the parents would be polled as to whether they supported moving forward with the program or not and if enough were in support then order forms would be sent home, but that isn’t how it played out.  Instead, parents were handed out the iPad order forms and told to return them within 10 days, meaning they are going to make the assumption that ordering the iPad means you support the program when in reality, for some of us at least, it means I don’t support the program but don’t want my child to be one of the kids without one.  It feels like entrapment to me and I’m not impressed. 

What do you think? 




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