Tablet PCs – a good tool for our kids?

There is an intriguing debate going on about the value of Tablet PCs in the education space between ComputerWorld columnist Stephen Bell and one of his readers, Gordon Milne.

It all started with an article Bell wrote about schools in New Zealand getting an influx of money to modernize their classrooms. Part of the money is going to fund a program aimed at providing an interactive digital content for schools. One of the pilot schools is Wellington’s Brooklyn, dubbed the country’s first “tablet classroom”.


Gordon Milne wrote a letter to Stephen Bell saying that implementing Tablet PCs into the classroom runs the risk of “dumbing down” the students. He says it is fine to outfit the teachers with computers, but students would be better off  doing their learning with paper, pen, clipboards.

From Milne’s letter referring to a survey tool that the Brooklyn kids used on their Tablet PCs:

There is little need for computers in day-to-day education. It may be nice to use Google Earth to see where you live, but Google this (or that) is not going to teach you the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.


…Kids doing this kind of survey should stand outside with clipboards and pencils, and make marks on sheets of paper. They should then transfer the results to the white/blackboard. After that, they should draw, on paper, their own little bar chart showing the results and then colour it in.


They would learn so much more doing it this way. Using a computer teaches kids nothing. The move to the ICT-based classroom is frightening; we are in danger of dumbing-down the next generation.

Bell published another article refutting many of Milen’s statements, the highlight being:

Gordon Milne’s remark, “There is little need for the use of a computer in day-to-day education” (see letter below) is reminiscent of Digital Equipment founder Ken Olsen’s remark, made in 1977, “There is no reason for anyone to have a computer in the home.

…“Google this (or that) is not going to teach you the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic,” says Milne. His comment reminds of my daughter’s, “Can you do this query for me, Dad? You know where the ‘ands’, ‘ors’ and brackets go.”


But a good search engine can teach you that (A and B) or C is not the same as A and (B or C). Interestingly, some of our “informed” spokespeople, who speak on issues of the day, seemingly never learnt this skill — either that or they know how to argue fallaciously and don’t expect anyone to detect the deception. Skills of logical inquiry and argument are as basic as the Three Rs.”

As you read the original article, and the resulting back and forth, what are your thoughts?