Technology in the education sector is a flourishing market. As tablets have become more prevalent, a debate has risen over whether South African schools should switch from print textbooks to digital textbooks on tablets.
There is no doubt that the consumer market for mobile devices must reach saturation at some point, and therefore tech companies are hoping to make converts of the youth, and where better to find them but in schools. Many tablet vendors are pushing their products with the selling point that tablets allow lessons to be tailored to individual students, can have content updated automatically and so on.
Richard Firth, Chairman and CEO of MIP Holdings, says that while tablets are a good addition to the learning environment in terms of being able to hold hundreds of textbooks, save the environment by lessening the need for printing, and boost student interactivity and creativity, they are not an adequate replacement for laptops.
“I believe that we do need to use digital media in schools, but my concern is that laptops are in danger of being superseded by tablets as the perceived de-facto productivity tool, and that is certainly not the case in the work environment. Laptops have USB integration for third party systems, enable a much wider variety of work outputs, and programmers use laptops to write code – even those that write apps for tablets.”
For Firth, another major detractor is the fact that tablets don’t have keyboards, which he sees as a core requirement for productivity. “It is far quicker and easier to use a machine that has a keyboard. The touchscreen that tablets use is incredibly difficult to type quickly on, and nearly impossible to use for touch typists. Learning skills such as programming is impossible on tablets, as they do not have the same functionality as PCs.”
In addition, the costs could outweigh the benefits, he says. “These devices aren’t cheap, and mobile technology is notorious for its ability to become completely obsolete in a question of months. Schools could find themselves in need of a slew of new devices sooner than they expect or have budgeted for.”
It’s Firth’s opinion that the crux of the matter lies in what the schools are trying to achieve through the use of tablets as learning tools. “Today’s learners need to use digital tools in order to familiarise themselves with the skills they will require in the workplace. While tablets are a great way to store content, they do not provide a means to create content to the same level that laptops do. We are already seeing the proficiency needed in maths and science for tech and engineering jobs lagging, and by using tablets as the primary technology teaching tool, we are in danger of adding to future skills shortages.”