My education on wireless technology in schools

Wireless technologies are really getting around, aren't they? It's hard to go anywhere without seeing them in use. Just walking down the street yields glimpses of any number of wireless technologies, from walkie-talkies to cell phones to pagers to wireless personal information managers. It's almost as if we are living in a (drumroll, please) Wireless World.

It's hard to imagine a place where wireless technology wouldn't be put to good use, given the many advantages it affords. So when I was pitched recently by a rather large company on its deployment of wireless technologies in schools, I thought, "Great, why not?" After all, why shouldn't schools in this country have the same technology available to them that businesses have? Isn't education at least as important as business?

I would have been content to go on thinking this way, with heart-warming visions of elementary school children busily working away on their laptops under a big oak tree at recess, if I hadn't spoken to an actual teacher about it. My sister teaches speech therapy at a small school in Farmington, N.M., and I excitedly brought up the idea of this kind of advanced technology being introduced to the education market.

Now to say that she turned me around on this one is an understatement. At first I couldn't believe, let alone understand, why she could possibly see a problem with getting kids started on technology at an early age; giving them a leg up in an increasingly technological society. I see things a little differently now.

She explained to me that while she thought children should be learning about technology, there were many better things than wireless LANs and notebook computers on which the money could be spent. With the current state of schools in the United States, she couldn't imagine shelling out thousands of dollars per student to set up this kind of system. With that money, schools could afford to hire more qualified teachers and pay them salaries that are commensurate with the important work they do. With money like that, schools should be addressing some of the basic shortcomings of the educational system.

She told me that too often she sees schools using computers as surrogate teachers, denying children the type of individual attention they need. In addition, the computers are often misused, and the Internet is difficult to view as an entirely wholesome experience for grade-school kids.

Finally, my sister shed some light on the way technology vendors prey on schools, viewing the education market as a seed market for future sales. The companies will discount products to public schools as an investment in the future, then spin the whole thing as a public relations stunt, telling everyone who will listen about their "dedication" to the education market.

Well, that was about all I needed to hear. I had gone from thinking it a good thing to bring wireless to yet another market to being embarrassed at how little I understood about education. I went back to read the pitch that I had been sent in an e-mail message, and laughed at how ridiculous it sounded:

"With a wireless network, students can sit outside at lunch and have access to the school's network from their laptops. In the classroom, students can work in teams and can group wherever they wish. With a wireless network, they aren't tethered to a certain seat and a certain port, and they won't trip over all those cords."

Tripping over cords? How big of a problem is that compared to decreasing graduation rates or illiteracy?

I'm not saying that these technologies won't ever have their place in our schools, but in due time. Wireless technology is great, but it's not for everyone yet.

This story, "My education on wireless technology in schools" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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