Computer Labs Under Scrutiny

Media Appearances, Education, Frontier Centre

Nanaimo school district is considering doing away with traditional computer labs and exploring cheaper ways to give students access to technology.

"The problem that we have is that our elementary computer labs are aging and they're going to need replacement," said David Green, secretary-treasurer.

A report by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a prairie-region think tank, cites research from several international studies that found a moderate level of computer access for students is positive, but too much access had a negative affect on academic achievement.

The report suggested money spent on information technology should be reduced and diverted to other aspects of education.

"We started to have a look at that ourselves, whether elementary computer labs were worthwhile or not," said Green. "We have $200,000 in our budget for computer replacements.

"It costs more money to maintain labs than we have in our budget this year."

Some alternatives considered included thin-screen monitors connected to a server network, or mobile labs that could be taken to different schools.

John Phipps, assistant superintendent of educational programs, said he looked at Kelowna and Peace River districts where all Grade 7 students are provided laptops, but budget shortfalls are forcing Nanaimo in the opposite direction.

"I view computers as a tool for learning," he said. "Tools not used well are not effective. I think it really still comes down to the basic teacher-learner relationship."

Phipps said the Kelowna district found laptops produced some increases in writing performance for boys, but no significant gains were found.

Steve Sproston, manager of information systems, said the district is exploring the potential cost savings of alternatives to computer labs in elementary schools.

Thin screens linked to a server are cheaper, but do not support the same range of software as a regular computer, while a mobile lab might have to be replaced every few years due to the fragility of the computers.