Daniel’s iPad charges every night while he sleeps so that it is ready for the next day at school. It has become part of his nightly routine, along with brushing his teeth and reading a book. In the hours the device is at home he admits to watching the odd YouTube clip and playing Minecraft, but he is also able to show his parents what he’s been doing at school. Today he demonstrates how he was able to work out various maths problems on Explain Everything.
The iPad technically belongs to his parents, but he insists that the family now refers to it as his.
Daniel is year 3. It seems a fairly tall order to expect the parents of a seven-year-old to send an expensive piece of tech off to school with their child each day. Yet, this has become commonplace.
“At first, we weren’t so sure,” says his father, Neil. “But as we saw that his peers were starting to bring them along, and how much they use them in the classroom, we didn’t want him to miss out.”
How BYOD is evolving
FOMO – fear of missing out – is certainly an apt acronym to help explain why many parents are starting to embrace their school’s BYOD (bring your own device) policy. But this hasn’t always been the case.
Initially, parents were reluctant to entrust the family iPad to their child or invest in a new device for their child’s education. Many were unconvinced that devices were really needed in the classroom. Meanwhile, the low uptake of BYOD meant teachers struggled to demonstrate the effectiveness of devices as a tool for teaching
This is still a fundamental problem with voluntary BYOD programmes. Until every student has a device, teachers cannot truly embrace digital technology. But until they embrace it, students (and their parents) aren’t going to see the need to shell out for a device.
Many schools can relate to this Catch-22 predicament, among them Westlake Boys’ High School.
“We are in the difficult situation, which has been the case with many schools that have a voluntary programme, that teachers cannot count on there being a full class of devices, which means that teaching programmes must necessarily lend themselves more to an analogue approach rather than using ICT for learning,” says principal
“We feel parents are generally supportive, although we have had some parents who would like to see a greater level of use of ICT for learning,” he says.
Westlake Boys’ previously had tight restrictions on electronic devices being brought to school by students. By 2013, owing to an improvement in the school’s infrastructure, students were allowed to bring devices that were a minimum of seven inches. However, the school quickly recognised that a large number of students did not have such devices, so the policy was relaxed to allow smartphones at teacher discretion. Since then, Saul says the school’s language and general approach has changed from “allowing” to “encouraging” students to bring learning devices to school.
Trade-off between cost and digital equality
BYOD policies vary hugely. They can be voluntary or compulsory. They can apply to the whole school or to certain year groups. They can allow any device, recommend a particular device or mandate the exact type of device that a student must have. There are pros and cons for whatever decision is taken. Schools must find the path that works best for them and their communities.
The New Zealand Council of Educational Research’s National Survey of Secondary Schools 2015 found that 62 per cent of secondary schools had a BYOD policy in place. Of these, 40 per cent of schools’ policies are for all students with the device unspecified.
Westlake Boys’ is among this group, operating a voluntary BYOD policy that allows students to bring in a device of their choosing. There are advantages to a voluntary approach like this. Saul says the school hasn’t had concerns about affordability raised by the parent community as it isn’t compulsory to purchase a device.
However, the flip side is that uptake of BYOD can take longer. Saul says the proportion of students who bring devices remains small, although they are starting to notice an increase in the number of year 9 and year 10 students bringing in devices.
In an attempt to bolster ICT access for students, Westlake Boys’ has also purchased 120 netbooks, which are split into six sets that can be booked. Saul describes the netbooks initiative as having “reasonable, but not outstanding success”.
He would prefer not to go down the road of school-owned devices. Keeping track of them, damage and the fact that students can’t take them home all makes the netbook solution inferior to BYOD for Westlake Boys’.
Horowhenua College clearly articulates on its website its case for BYOD over school-procured devices. It matter-of-factly states that the school can’t afford to replace its desktop machines, which are fast becoming outdated.
“As a school, what we want is 1:1 access to technology, access to the internet as needed, when needed. We can’t afford to do that by ourselves so we need parent help. We need you to purchase a 1:1 learning device for your student.”
By contrast, some schools have opted for school-owned devices for every student, or as high a ratio as possible, in an effort to ensure equity of access for students.
Te Akau ki Papamoa School, for example, supplied each of its 580 students with an iPad mini. The school achieved this through tight budgeting and fundraising.
The biggest advantage for 1:1 school-owned devices is digital equality. Schools don’t have to worry about who does and doesn’t have a device, or whether one student’s device is inferior to that of another. Additionally, as everyone has the same device and is on the same platform, schools know whatever apps they use will work on all of their students’ devices.
However, on the downside, the costs for this approach can be considerable. In addition to the initial outlay there are the long-term maintenance costs to be taken into account, including upgrades and replacing old devices for new ones. By contrast, with BYOD, the maintenance is the responsibility of the user.
Can digital equality be achieved through BYOD?
Grant Saul thinks the growth of BYOD is inevitable. The proliferation of devices will mean more are brought to school, which in turn will mean educators can fully integrate digital technology into their teaching.
The increase in uptake of BYOD is expected to result in improved equity of access. While students may have different devices, the fact that virtually all will have a device of some variety is a step closer to digital equality – without the associated costs of school-owned device systems.
Some schools have adopted a more prescriptive BYOD policy in an effort to bring digital equality to the classroom.
Horowhenua College, for example, requires all year 9 and 10 students to “bring a Wi-Fi internet capable device with them to school each day for learning”. It recommends the iPad mini 16GB Wi-Fi but is happy for students to bring another device if they have one already. It states that “in cases of hardship the school will be able to issue a device to students”.
Other schools take a more rigid line, mandating a particular device. A prescriptive BYOD policy relieves the school of the cost burden and achieves complete equity of access – however, it does place pressure on students and their families, particularly those who may not be in a position to afford the required device.
In the cases when a particular device is required, the school will often aim to put a bulk purchasing deal in place for parents to purchase at a cheaper rate.
Papakura Normal School considered a range of options before they settled on the HP Stream 11” notebook as the device of choice for its students. The biggest criterion was price – it had to be cost effective for parents. However, size, battery life, reliability and functionality were all key factors as well. It was important to the school that students could access both Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps.
Point England School owns around 300 devices providing a device per student for its year 1 to 3 students. The school’s year 4 to 8 students lease to own their devices at a rate of $3.75 per week. These are school-procured and provisioned with the Manaiakalani Education Trust holding the equity and liability for the micro loans.
Who should bear the cost?
The NZCER survey found that three decile 1-4 secondary schools reported having lease-to-buy schemes in place, similar to the Manaiakalani approach. However, many low-decile schools are struggling to get a BYOD policy off the ground due to the inability of their communities to afford devices. The survey found that 88 per cent of decile 1-2 secondary schools reported this as a barrier for BYOD. In sharp contrast, just three percent of decile 9-10 schools reported the same barrier.
It is unsurprising that high decile schools are more likely to have a BYOD policy in place than low-decile schools (the survey reports 83 per cent, compared with 40 per cent). Interestingly, school size also plays a part, with larger schools more likely to have a BYOD policy than smaller schools.
It is clear we are still a long way from achieving digital equality – within schools in many cases, and across all schools.
Many think it should be the Government footing the bill for student devices – particularly with digital technology taking an increasingly high profile in education.
Labour’s education spokesperson Chris Hipkins believes parents shouldn’t be shelling out at all. Earlier this year he hit out at government for failing to adequately fund devices for students.
“There’s no doubt that kids need to be using technology, but simply transferring the cost of that onto parents isn’t really living up to our obligation to provide kids with a free education,” said Hipkins. “We need to look at the cost of technology that schools face because clearly government funding isn’t keeping up with that.”
There have also been calls for more teacher professional development in this area to ensure that teachers are effectively incorporating digital technology into their teaching and learning practice. These have strengthened with the news that digital technologies is to be formally integrated into The New Zealand Curriculum.
However, there is no indication of any additional funding assistance from government toward the provision of devices in schools.
Lisa Rodgers, head of early learning and student achievement for the Ministry of Education, says the changes to the curriculum are not expected to place any further pressure on schools’ device:student ratios.
“Our schools are already among the best-equipped in the OECD for digital technology and connectivity. There’s just over one (1.2) students per school computer in New Zealand, compared with an OECD average of nearly five (4.7). Nevertheless, strengthening the place of digital technologies in the curriculum doesn’t require each student to have a digital device,” says Rodgers. “The proposed new content in the curriculum is underpinned by computational thinking that is not dependent on access to digital devices, particularly in the early levels of the curriculum.”
Rodgers says it is very much up to the school how they approach the challenge of providing students access to devices.
“This is something that each school will make decisions on. Some are implementing or working towards a device for every student, while others are making sure they have a good stock of devices that can be shared.”
Indeed, there is no single best approach. Each school and its wider community must be true to its own needs and goals as it navigates its way through the myriad options to find the best solution for its students.