The BBC published a weird story yesterday about a lawsuit by Pennsylvania parents against a school district. It seems the Lower Merion School District gave all 1800 high school students in the district laptops that included a security feature that allowed the school district to take photos of whomever was using the laptop. The feature was only supposed to be used in the event a laptop was reported lost, missing, or stolen. The article is unclear on whether the feature actually was used for other reasons, but in any case the parents have sued, claiming an invasion of privacy. Their Complaint alleges that the feature may have been used to take intrusive photos.
I’m not quite sure how taking a photo of whomever is using a laptop is really going to help find lost or stolen laptops. What really seems weird to me, however, is that the Lower Merion School District thought it was a great use of school funds — probably more than $1 million in school funds, at that — to give every high school student a laptop. Maybe the Lower Merion School District is just flush with cash, but since when does owning a laptop mean that the recipient is sure to become educated? Apparently the concept was that the laptops could be used to give students access to “school resources” on a 24/7 basis. Do the people running the Lower Merion School District really think that is happening?
American public schools have lots of problems, but they mostly are not problems that can be solved by more technology. The biggest problems with public schools include problems with lack of security, lack of involved parents, too many burnt-out teachers, and lame curricula that fail to motivate and challenge students. The students who are already engaged with school don’t need free laptops to keep up with their homework, and the students who aren’t trying probably aren’t going to use the laptops to turn their educational careers around. Giving laptops to high school students seems like more of a talking point to tout during the next school levy campaign than an effective educational tool.