ICS is what’s called a one-to-one laptop school. Here, that means that every kid in grade 6 is entitled to his own school-issued computer. It’s funny to think how normal this seems to me now in Addis Ababa, yet how outlandishly futuristic such programs sounded to me in Medford, Oregon just a couple of years ago.
There are a number of reasons a program like this would have been unthinkable at my old high school in the US. Not only would it have been prohibitively expensive (and alarming for the poor one-man IT department), but the administration was a bit freaked out about putting too much technology in the hands of teenagers. Imagine the objections. Kids would break the computers. Kids would steal the computers. Kids’ parents would steal the computers. Kids would watch porn on the computers. Kids would be on Facebook all day long. Kids would download music and movies illegally. I could go on.
It’s remarkable how these concerns either don’t arise here, or how much they don’t matter in actual practice. I suppose part of it is that we are a private school, and if computers are lost/broken/stolen, most parents will pony up for the damage. Also (though it’s rarely necessary) we can withhold grade reports or diplomas while US public schools can’t.
But as for issues of ethical use, well, the general feeling is that you expect the kids to be responsible. If they aren’t, then there are consequences. This school has high academic standards – if you don’t get your work done, you get poor grades. And poor grades are considered a bad thing.
Our school has its own wireless network, and there is a filter. We don’t filter out social networking sites – part of the 21st century learner profile to which we aspire involves lots of discussion and collaboration, so blogging, tweeting, facebooking etc. are actively encouraged for educational purposes. Students need open access to online tools and resources. How do we make sure they aren’t playing games, sharing songs, etc.? We don’t. But teachers learn to keep the kids on task in class, using techniques such as asking them to “tip their screens” when attending to a presenter, or by requiring students to close all tabs other than the one they are supposed to be using for the task at hand. Downloading during school hours slows down the network, so downloading has to happen after hours. Yep, some kids are playing 2048 when they’re supposed to be writing up their chem lab report, but they’ll pay for it tonight in homework time.
The students get to take their laptops home, so how can we restrict what they use them for there, where there’s no filter? We can’t. But all students sign an acceptable use policy when the computer is issued, and if their parents catch them accessing something they shouldn’t (and that’s up to the parents to set those boundaries), then we can refer back to that agreement. But from what I understand, that rarely happens.
Of course, there are some problems. Currently the biggest one is the issue of the haves versus the have-nots. If they own one, a student can use their own personal computer instead of a school-issued laptop, which means we have kids with Macbook Airs lording it over the kids with ICS’s basic Acer notebook. Also, the school’s policy of using open-source software (our operating system is Ubuntu, and our office suite is LibreOffice) is a noble and forward-thinking philosophical stance, but the kids with their own computers are using proprietary software from Microsoft and Apple that not only isn’t wholly compatible with the school-issued programs, but which in many cases is simply superior. (I know our IT department would disagree with that last statement, so let’s just say that MS and Apple are easier for those of us whose tech skills are less advanced.)
Students without Internet connection at home have to stay on campus to get on the web. But the school has one of the fastest connections in the country so even kids with home Internet choose to stay on campus, making connectivity less of a social divider than the computers themselves. But at least everyone does have a computer, and everyone does have Internet access – more than I can say for students in Medford, Oregon.
Think about it. We can’t manage it in one of the richest countries in the world, but we can do it in Ethiopia. Like so much else, it is a matter of priorities.