One per child

I was having an email conversation yesterday morning with Paul Haigh about the sense in schools enabling pupils to use their own mobile devices and even phones in school because they can be very powerful tools for learning. And because schools will not be able to afford to buy mobile computers for all pupils while it is inevitable that your own computer and connection to the Internet will become seen as indispensable for learning.

I have written about this on my website because I have been thinking about it a long time – I was involved in attempts to design a One Per Child (“OPC”) device at Acorn. Once we had the ARM chip in the late 1980s we met once a year to see if the surrounding technology had moved on far enough to make an OPC feasible. I brought harsh marketing criteria to these discussions, the main one being that it had to cost less than a decent kid’s bike. It was going to have to be bought by parents in the main.  A back of the envelope calculation easily showed that even at that price the education system was very unlikely to afford OPCs for all – just multiply 8 million pupils by a couple of hundred quid and assume say a 3yr replacement cycle. We always failed to get the cost of the bits sufficiently inside the price the device had to be; the ARM chip was not the problem, it was the cost of screens and the batteries to drive them. Now of course we are seeing the kind of thing we had in mind and the ARM core is there doing its job in very many mobile phones.

But that is another story. What has stimulated this blog is that after talking to Paul about kids using phones for learning, that evening I dropped into our local for a pint. The partner of the guy serving behind the bar was sitting in a corner, biding time till the end of his shift to go home together. And her portable hobby to pass the time was knitting. Complicated knitting of something very small, using 4 needles.

But to finish off what she was knitting she had a problem knowing precisely how to do it. Fortunately there was another friend there, and after a conversation about her difficulty he volunteered his mobile phone, and the pub has wifi so reception was no problem. So there she was sitting at a table, using an iphone for the first time in her life but easily managing to scroll up and down a series of images that showed her what to do. And she very neatly and successfully finished off what she was knitting.

My mind immediately went back to the conversation with Paul. Why can’t the kids in school have the same opportunity to grab some help from the Internet and to do just-in-time learning when they need to. It just does not make sense for schools and teacher unions to fight against this. Take the advice from Paul on how to do it and get an acceptable use policy instilled into everyone in the school and develop a culture where phones and mobile devices can be used in appropriate ways at appropriate times.

Oh – and what was she knitting? A neat little jersey case for someone else’s phone!

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