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BRIAN HICKS: iPads benefit stockholders or students?

Something here doesn't compute.

Four months after issuing iPads to students in three elementary school classrooms, the Charleston County School Board has decided to expand this pilot program to two entire schools next year.

At a cost of $2.1 million.

While they are facing a massive budget shortfall.

When the academic value of these gadgets has yet to be proven.

Perhaps what's most amazing is that the board's decision was unanimous. That's a testament to the sales job by district staff, which said iPads will accelerate the achievement of students in a material, uh, digital world.

And who knows, that may be true. It would have been nice to get a full semester's worth of data before plunging ahead, but the district is merely following a national trend -- schools around the country are chucking their textbooks and flocking to touch-screen tablets.

Seems like the money might be better spent on the district's literacy program. After all, how much can these things really do if kids can't read the instructions?


Put aside for a minute the question of whether iPads will help kids learn.

Think about the politics, which are more vicious on the school district level than anywhere else. To a very vocal group of critics, this decision is just further proof that the school district has squandered tax money on its way to this budget crisis. The board has to realize this.

It doesn't matter if the funds to buy these iPads are capital money, which can't be used to save teachers or keep classrooms at their current size. The board is correct that this money can't be used for operating expenses. But that's beside the point. Most people don't see that; they aren't certified public accountants -- you know, finance experts like our governor.

Without some real proof that an expensive computer is going to improve academic achievement, this is a dangerous time for the board to embark on a shopping spree.


There is no doubt kids need to get a grip on technology to make it these days. And school board member Elizabeth Kandrac is probably right to speculate kids will be more receptive to their homework if they get to do it on a touch-screen.

But there is a real need for fundamentals these days. If you have an app that is outlining your book report, is the iPad teaching students or just doing their work? Frankly, spell check is no substitute for knowing how to spell.

Don't think this $2.1 million is the end. First of all, if it's roughly $2 million for two schools, how much is the cost going to be to outfit all 70-odd schools with these things? Apple is only giving educators a 10 percent discount.

Then there's the maintenance. How long are high-end electronics going to last in the hands of elementary school kids? Take a look at your average textbook, and you'll see all the corners are dented. That's because kids drop books, and they'll drop these things -- at about $500 a pop.

For the moment, it's really unclear if the benefits outweigh the costs here, and it's a bad economic climate for gambling.

Right now, the only group certain to benefit from this idea is Apple stockholders.

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