When the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it was providing iPads to its students, I winced. I knew from previous research in West Africa that handing out computers doesn’t lead students to careers as highly paid STEM workers. It was more likely that LAUSD’s largely working class and poor student population would play games, hop onto social media, or be penalized for hacking into forbidden sites. In other words, they would behave like children.
I also worried about safety. A few schools were exempted from the requirement that the devices were to be left in school. That kind of word spreads quickly. I worried that some students might be pressured to bring them home by relatives or local bullies. Worse that some might be tempted to steal them for their own use or to sell. Apple products generate enormous hunger in people. Look at those iPhone lines. I was never persuaded that partial access would do anything but stoke that hunger.
And what about the maintenance and replacement budget? Or the fact that the program was only funded for three years?
I believe the LAUSD’s faulty logic went something like this. Upwardly mobile, middle class students have Apple products. Therefore, giving poor and working class students will turn them into upwardly mobile, middle income people.
Here’s how the laist blog described the program (emphasis added) :
The Los Angeles Unified School District has temporarily halted a plan to distribute thousands of iPads to schools because of widespread hacking by students.
The move is seen as a climactic moment in a long, headache-inducing saga that highlighted just how little school officials knew about students and their habits.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy originally developed the program as a way to get kids from low-income and impoverished backgrounds access to cutting-edge technology. (http://laist.com/2013/11/10/lausd_puts_the_brakes_on_ipad_progr.php)
Charity that isn’t tied to research is counterproductive, especially in difficult economic times. Some reading about the LAUSD’s program will want to scuttle it and sadly, any additional support for the public schools.
What’s the answer? We’ve tried sincerity, hope and passion, how about some facts?
Check out the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. Basically, the Lab is working to “reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is based on scientific evidence, and research is translated into action.” It conducts randomized controlled trials, using the same methodology as research scientists.
You can find more information about them here:
h/t to Bill Gates for tweeting them.