I attended an FCC discussion meeting on the National Broadband Plan where the first item on the audience’s homework list was “Imagine if … every child had a PC and an e-book reader”. They cited the case of a rural Texas school with 28 year old textbooks as an example. I don’t have to stretch my imagination to envision this scenario. I live in a Silicon Valley school district and we already have connectivity and PCs in the classrooms. Local companies donate computer equipment to our schools. For the most part, the PCs spend much of their time under dust covers and are rarely used. My daughter attends a public elementary school and has the option to do math on-line and has the capability to practice her weekly spelling through a computer program, but rarely does either. So while my daughter is very interested in using computers and has access to them both at school and at home, it’s not emphasized or encouraged. One of the biggest hurdles will be convincing teachers of the merits of moving to this new approach and subsequently training the teachers to adopt the digital revolution in earnest. As a parent who organizes parent volunteers to help in the school, I can say that most parents aren’t comfortable with computers either.
For this type of changeover to occur in the schools, it will have to be a cost savings or at least a net zero program. Today’s cost of a low-end PC and an e-book reader for every student in my school district would be $9.6M, but my district’s non-salary budget is only $23M. While the $9.6M may not seem like a large number if spread over 10 or more years, consider the short life cycle of computers, maintenance and the upgrade issues. In turn, new computers and new software require continual retraining of the teachers. Next, the availability of electronics textbooks is currently aimed at the college market, not the K-12 market. My school district currently spends $70 per student on textbooks annually. E-book versions of textbook will not reduce the costs, but merely shift it to a different media. The cost of this type of program would be prohibitive in my school districts, which always seem to be in a budget crisis.
I have no doubt that the FCC’s vision will eventually become a reality, just not in the near term future.