School encourages electronic switch

Emily Paine (12) completes some school work using her own digital device with fellow classmates (from left) Kingsley Holder, Callum Butcher, Elloise Dixon, Jamie Horsefield and Trey Mclean (all 12). Photo by Craig Baxter.
Emily Paine (12) completes some school work using her own digital device with fellow classmates (from left) Kingsley Holder, Callum Butcher, Elloise Dixon, Jamie Horsefield and Trey Mclean (all 12). Photo by Craig Baxter.
Balmacewen Intermediate in Dunedin is about to become the first intermediate state school in Otago to encourage all pupils to bring electronic devices to school for learning.

Principal Andrew Hunter said an initiative was trialled in two classrooms last year in which pupils brought their own laptops, smartphones or tablets to use in class.

It was a great success and now that parents had been consulted, the initiative would be introduced to the whole school next week, he said.

''This is something new to intermediates.

''If parents want their children to have instant and constant access to technology, they can bring their own.

''While some schools designate what to bring, we're saying bring whatever you've got, as long as it's wireless-capable and it can provide access to the internet.

Andrew Hunter
Andrew Hunter
''They can bring an iPhone, iPad or an old laptop - whatever you have at your disposal, anything that is wireless-capable.''

There was an expectation now that pupils had an ability to ''search and create'' material online, and learning using computers was ''the way of the future in state schools'', Mr Hunter said.

''Students these days seem to be born with devices strapped to their hands.

''Allowing them to use them at school meets their needs. We're teaching using more and more online tools.''

It would not be compulsory for all pupils because it would be too expensive for many parents, and also too expensive for the school to provide digital devices, he said.

''In this day and age, it costs about $20,000 to $25,000 per year [to buy enough computers] for one piece of technology to be shared by four pupils.

''That's really difficult to sustain.

''You have to renew them every three to four years, and on a year like this, where it's being implemented, it could cost up to $47,000 to provide laptops for all pupils.''

The school had at least six or seven computers in each classroom, so no pupil would be disadvantaged if they did not have their own, he said.

A digital citizen policy has been established at the school to educate pupils on safe and appropriate use, and all digital devices would be locked up during intervals and lunch breaks, to make sure pupils did not have too much screen time, he said.

Other state-integrated schools, such as Columba College and St Hilda's Collegiate in Dunedin, have made it compulsory for all pupils to have their own school-approved laptop.

Otago Primary Principals' Association president Whetu Cormick said he was not aware of any primary schools in Otago or Southland where all pupils were encouraged to bring their own digital devices.

He said the initiative was on the radar for many primary schools in Otago which hoped to establish similar learning opportunities using digital devices once ultra-fast broadband became available in their area.

''We should celebrate any innovation that supports learning, motivation and engagement in the curriculum.

''In 2013, it seems that people in general are using technology more often in our daily lives.

''Young people should be able to use technology to support their own achievement and development.

''I applaud Balmacewen for making the step.''

- john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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