Free Surface RT tablets for schools: Should kids have to use what adults don't want?

Microsoft's new "Bing for Schools" plan will give away Surface RT tablets to schools whose staff, children, and parents use an ad-free version of Bing. It sounds like a great idea -- but should schoolkids be using technology that parents and other adults have shown they don't want?

In the Bing for Schools program, K-12 schools will be able to use an ad-free, customized version of Bing that also includes adult-content filtering and privacy protections aimed at schools and schoolchildren. People associated with a school who use that version of Bing get credits for using it. When 30,000 Bing credits are earned, the school can get a free Surface RT with a cover. It takes approximately 60 people using Bing regularly for a month to accumulate enough credits for a school to get a free Surface RT tablet.

This is part of a big Microsoft push to get schools to use a device that adults so far have spurned. Microsoft has had to write down $900 million because of unsold Surface RT inventory, and many hardware partners, including Asus and many others, have abandoned the platform.

Microsoft has already given away 10,000 Surface RT tablets to teachers who attended the recent International Society for Technology in Education. And Microsoft has also heavily discounted Surface RT tablets for K-12 schools and colleges and universities.

Free is free, and the Bing for Schools deal is a tough offer to turn down. But should school children be using tablets that adults don't want? In a word, yes. Surface RT tablets, especially when outfitted with a keyboard, are well-suited for children. They're simple to use, make Internet access easy, and come with Office for free. Cash-strapped schools need all the help they can get, and free tablets will be a great benefit for students. Just because Microsoft overpriced the tablet and can't sell it is no reason to keep them out of the hands of children.

John Paczkowski of AllThingsD sums up the benefit best when he says, "If there's little demand for the device, why not offer it as a sort of Happy Meal prize for eager Bing for Schools users?"

I think he's right. And in this instance, there's no downside, as there is with ingesting a health-threatening Happy Meal.

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