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A Computer For Every Student

“One-to-one programs” are popular in private schools, and the governor wants them in all the public schools, but the jury is still out on their effectiveness

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Peek into Lorelei Saito’s seventh-grade social studies class at Punahou’s Case Middle School and you’ll see students sitting in front of personal laptops, completing multimedia projects to share with students in a classroom halfway around the world.

Walk over to Punahou’s high school and you’ll see students in Douglas Kiang’s iPhone app-development class typing up programming on personal laptops for their final app projects.

Head over to Mid Pacific Institute and you’ll see students of all ages checking their campus email or downloading educational apps on their new school-distributed iPads.

In a few years, step onto a public-school campus and you just might see the same things.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s Makana Connection initiative seeks to provide public schools with technology for students, in partnership with community organizations, businesses and local schools with existing one-to-one programs.

The first phase of the initiative seeks to put laptops or tablets in the hands of every public-school student from grades three and up. It’s a bold plan that will cost millions of dollars to start and maintain, take years to implement, and require hours of training for both students and teachers. But the time and money are worth it, say supporters.

“Together with the BOE and DOE, the Governor believes that our high school graduates need to be prepared to succeed in college and careers as citizens and stewards of our island state as well as an increasingly global and complex world,” says Tammi Chun, policy analyst for the governor. “Makana Connection is an initiative (that) gives students tools being used in colleges and the workplace, and access to a world of learning opportunities.”

The governor requested $1 million in the current fiscal year’s state budget for a pilot project, but it was not included. Instead, the governor’s office has partnered with nonprofits and the state Department of Education to plan and fund a pilot project at three public schools this school year.

For the project, approximately 1,500 laptops will be given to students at Keaau Elementary and Keaau Middle School on Hawaii Island, thanks to funding from the Hawaiian Electric Industries Charitable Foundation and other donors, and faculty will receive training and other support.

Kalani High School in East Honolulu, which has had a one-to-one program since 2009, will continue to use the laptops already at the school, but will receive support for additional teacher training.

The differing demographics of the two districts – the Keeau schools serve many low-income families while Kalani serves few – will provide insight on how one-to-one programs function in different environments, says Chun. “A statewide plan needs to consider a variety of family circumstances and community assets, and the involvement from both Keaau and Kalani schools is important to understand how a program will work in different school communities,” she says.

Whether the state expands the program to other public schools hinges on the success of the pilot program and whether the state can find funding.

“There are competing priorities around funds right now, even funds for education,” says Chris van Bergeijk, VP and COO of the Hawaii Community Foundation, which has provided the governor’s initiative with insight and lessons learned from its Schools of the Future technology project. “The goal now is to get a lot of answers and on-the-ground experience with the program first. But no question, scaling it across several hundred schools has a pretty big price tag attached,” van Bergeijk says.

One-to-One in Hawaii

Computers and other technology have been used in education for many years, but a one-student-to-one-mobile-device ratio is considered by advocates to be ideal for learning, largely because students can personalize the devices and use them in and out of school.

One-to-one programs have been in U.S. schools since the 1980s, when Apple started its decade-long Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow research and development program to study the computer’s effects on learning.

With the turn of the century, educators realized students would need to develop and apply “21st-century skills,” such as creativity and innovation, information literacy, and social and cross-cultural interaction, to be successful after graduation. This spurred individual schools, districts and even entire states to initiate one-to-one programs.

In Hawaii, many private schools, and some charter and public schools, have implemented one-to-one programs, citing the perceived benefits of the programs and that technology is already a big part of many students’ lives. Advocates say it makes sense to leverage that knowledge and interest.

“We realize that, once kids get used to the idea of having the technology with them all the time, it does change the way they learn and we definitely have to change the way we teach,” says Carey Inouye, dean of instruction at Iolani School.

“Technology is their world,” adds Amy Kimura, assistant principal at the high school of Kamehameha Schools’ Kapalama Campus. “That’s where they live and that’s what they understand. If you want to engage them, you have to change how you engage them because it’s different now.”

Why One-to-One?

There are many reasons support for one-to-one programs is strong.

Advocates say one of the most significant benefits is student engagement, which has been demonstrated to markedly improve with one-to-one programs because teachers can teach in a context students understand and relate to.

A University of Southern Maine study done two years after the start of Maine’s initiative in 2002, which is the most expansive one-to-one program in the country, found that eight out of 10 teachers believed their students were more actively involved in their learning because of the laptops.

Saito, now in her sixth year as a social studies teacher at Punahou, also believes her students are more engaged because of the dynamic learning environment created by Punahou’s one-to-one laptop program, which started in 2002 and now includes every student from fourth through 12th grades.

“As a social-studies teacher, using the laptops to open up doors to other parts of the world is so valuable, much more engaging than just saying, ‘Look at the picture in the textbook’ or ‘Take a look at this map,’ ” she says. “Doing things like communicating with students their own age in the region they’re studying about makes it real.”

One-to-one programs are also touted for their support of project-based learning, which emphasizes a student-centered classroom instead of the traditional teacher-centered classroom. Students take a more active role in their education by applying what they learn through collaborative projects rather than sitting through lectures and taking tests to show what they’ve learned, or merely memorized.

Technology is a whole new medium for project creation and allows students to collaborate easily even when they’re not physically in the same place.

“Having the one-to-one program, students can choose how they want to show their learning,” says Saito. “… Having students think critically, saying, ‘Well, how are you going to take these concepts and then turn them into something? How are you going to apply that?’ is more challenging for them. That’s why projects are more of an authentic learning experience and form of assessment.”

Many supporters also say one-to-one programs are important because they help to bridge the digital divide that exists between the haves and have-nots. Students who already have access to technology at home have a distinct advantage over students who do not, especially in acquiring important 21st century skills. So, the theory goes, providing all students with laptops puts them on the same playing field.

“What about the kids who are sleeping in Makaha Beach Park, who don’t have electricity, don’t have access to computers, don’t even have access to shoes?” asks Brendan Brennan, a math teacher at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Laboratory School and one of the teachers heading the charter school’s one-to-one pilot project this year. “We need to look at how to help them enjoy the same kind of learning that the kid at Mid Pac or Punahou will enjoy.”

Because the technology is portable, students can use their laptops or tablets all around campus, as well as outside of school, eliminating time and space as barriers to learning.

“The fact that students aren’t tied to their desks to do certain tasks, they can do (school work) at home, they can do it in the classroom, is a big deal.” says Bob McIntosh, technology director at Mid Pacific Institute. “And the majority of our teachers, especially in the high school, share classrooms, so there’s that idea of not having a home base.”

One-to-one programs are designed to prepare students for college and most careers, where technological knowledge is essential.

“Given the requirements and expectations of the 21st century and what you need for college and a career, you need to be technologically ready,” says St. Louis principal Pat Hamamoto. “Students need to hands-on use it.”

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Old to new | New to old
Nov 2, 2012 04:55 am
 Posted by  miriam

There is a great website for apps,, which specialises in educational apps for young kids, parents, students and teachers. It is the one I always use when I want to find an educational app, and also the main store for my friends to buy good apps for their kids.

This has been flagged
Mar 11, 2013 07:09 pm
 Posted by  Mel

It's a great idea to supply every student in the State of Hawaii a Laptop Computer or a Tablet. Will the state also provide internet connections for these stuents when they take hope these
computers or tablets home.

Will these Computers and Tablets have the capabilities to playing games, downloading music, playing music, going on Face Book, other scocial networks, email, etc.?

Students without personal computers now will then be able to do all the above things. Will it help or hurt?


Mar 11, 2013 07:21 pm
 Posted by  Mel

If all public schools are issued a Laptop Computer/Tablet, what happens if the student lost, broke, or sold the item and refused to pay fore it. Who would be held accountable? The student, the parents of the students (both refusing to pay for the item), or the teacher.

With mentality of Governor Abercrombie who wants to hold the teachers accountable for student learning, it would be very easy for him to hold the teachers accountable for the computers/tablets.

Mar 11, 2013 07:29 pm
 Posted by  Mel

How can teachers who have little or no control over students be held responsible for their learning?

There are students who don't come to school at all, some with sporatic attendance and some who come to class but refuses to do work or turn work in. Calling parents can be frustrating -- they will tell you they have no control over their children and their children will not listen to them.

Explain now. How can teachers be held accountable for students like this?

Mar 11, 2013 07:46 pm
 Posted by  Mel

How to have a more effective public school system -- "Invest In Your Child's Education".

Collect $200 and up to a maximum of $10,000. Run the school like
private schools. Monies invested is returned to the parents w/interest if the student passes all classes with a "C" or better at the end of the academic year.

Parents will get back their original investment w/out interest if the child is withdrawn from school in good academic standards.

No refund if student is expelled for academic or ..

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