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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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Does It Work?

Despite the touted benefits of one-to-one programs, the evidence is not conclusive.

Some studies have shown that student engagement does improve, but there are indications that improvements are not sustained past the first few years as the novelty of the program wears off. Another University of Southern Maine study, done five years after the start of the Maine initiative, found only six out of 10 teachers felt their students were more engaged because of the laptops, 20 percentage points lower than the results of the initial study.

“If you talk to the folks in Maine, they’ll tell you that, sure, student engagement increases, student attendance will increase and grades will increase,” says David Wu, assistant superintendent and CIO at Hawaii’s Department of Education, who has been planning for a possible one-to-one program in Hawaii public schools. “But like all introduction of technology, there’s this peak when the people are excited about it, so they come to school more often, they’re more engaged, but then they get used to it and activity goes back to normal.”

Some critics don’t believe one-to-one programs help to bridge the gap between the privileged and disadvantaged. Though the programs may benefit the disadvantaged and provide them with skills they otherwise may not develop, one-to-one programs benefit the privileged just as much, if not more, effectively maintaining or even widening the gap between them.

Although one-to-one programs have been around for years, their actual academic benefits are still being questioned.

When one-to-one programs were first implemented in public schools, many educators hoped they would raise standardized test scores, but studies of programs throughout the country have shown mixed results when it comes to improved performance in core academic subjects and standardized test scores. Some programs have shown statistically significant academic improvement, while others have found no improvement or even worse performance.

Supporters argue that assessing one-to-one programs by looking at test scores will not provide an accurate reflection of their effectiveness because things like 21st-century skills cannot be measured through traditional testing.

One success is well-documented: Writing-test scores frequently show improvement. Many say this is because computers support the writing process by making it easier for students to draft, edit and refine their writing, resulting in more and better writing.

Cost Is a Big Factor

Money is a major concern in one-to-one programs. The hardware for each teacher and student, as well as maintenance, upgrades to infrastructure and insurance, add up, making one-to-one programs a huge investment.

Though one-to-one programs save some costs, often by reducing the use of paper and traditional textbooks, many local private-school officials say their programs cost a lot more than traditional educational tools and materials.

“We’re not looking at technology to save us money,” says Inouye of Iolani’s program. “It hasn’t up to now. In fact, it costs a lot more. Just updating the computers and upgrading software is very expensive.”

Wu adds that if the state’s one-to-one initiative in public schools proceeds, it won’t be cheap.

“We did a theoretical budget and the run rate on this, if we did it at the volume that we should, we’re hoping to hit a cost of about $200 to $250 per student per year, just for the devices,” he says. “Professional development may cost between one and two times that.” That means, with about 128,000 public school students in grades three through 12, the cost for the devices alone could be $32 million a year.

Some educators and parents have also expressed concern that access to too much technology will distract many students and make them too dependent on it, inhibiting the development of necessary social and cognitive skills.

If students believe technology can do everything for them, there is concern that, when it is unavailable, students will be unable to adapt and accomplish tasks.
But Wendi Kamiya, CIO at Punahou, says one-to-one programs are not about emphasizing technology, but how it can facilitate effective learning.

“Technology is not the point,” she says. “It’s not how much time you spend on the computer. If you’re using the computer, the goal is developing critical-thinking skills; if you’re having students search on a computer, it’s not just about searching, but how they use the information they get out of it.”

Van Bergeijk adds, “At first thought, it was all about the technology, but we found early on that it’s not. The technology just supports learning.”

Saito says these concerns are partly why she tries to keep laptop use to a minimum during class.

“In-class use (of laptops) is a very small percentage of class time. When the students are here in class sitting down with their peers, I’d rather they interact with each other. … Never does this tool take the place of face-to-face collaboration.”

Make or Break

Though many one-to-one programs have been deemed successful and continue to thrive, there are many others that have shown little to no benefit and are being abandoned.

A district-wide one-to-one program in New York City was scrapped after seven years because there was little evidence the program was improving student achievement. Also, teachers found the laptops were a distraction in class, students often used their school-issued laptops inappropriately, and schools faced many technical and infrastructural problems.

“As a whole, one-to-one programs are not proven to improve education or learning yet,” says UH Lab’s Brennan, which is why the Lab School is running a pilot program this school year.

Depending on the results of the pilot program, which will study the educational benefits of Apple Macbook Pro laptops and Google Chromebooks, the school will determine whether to expand or cancel the program.

When programs fail, the key problem is often that schools and individual teachers fail to integrate the technology into the curriculum, says van Bergeijk. If integration is ineffective, one-to-one programs only provide students with a heavy toy to lug to and from school.

“The device is the easiest part of putting a one-to-one program in place,” says Wu. “The real challenge is how do you transform the pedagogy to match the use of technology in the classroom?”

“It’s a matter of getting our teachers up to speed and having them understand how to infuse all this into the curriculum,” adds Kimura. “It shouldn’t be just a fluffy add-on type of thing or it won’t be effective.”

Parental involvement and support is also crucial to a successful one-to-one program. If parents don’t actively support it, in-home use of the devices may be minimal or more for entertainment than education.

That’s why schools with one-to-one programs often hold seminars and workshops to help parents understand the program’s relevance, plus provide tips on how to monitor and support laptop or tablet use at home.

“We want to really focus on appropriateness and creating community,” says Brennan. “A lot of programs fail because there’s no created community buy-in. The parents don’t want to pay for it unless they see value for it; the teachers don’t want to use it unless they know how to use it appropriately; and the students aren’t going to care about it if they don’t have a reason to use it for their learning.”

What’s Next?

Considering the benefits and concerns associated with one-to-one programs, the big question is whether or not they will help Hawaii public schools.

While many support a statewide one-to-one program, they agree that students without one aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage to those who do because it’s not all about the technology.

“I think the more important thing is how (the technology) is being used to cultivate 21st-century skills,” van Bergeijk says. “… Classrooms that don’t have a laptop for every child can still achieve that. If you’ve got a great teacher who really knows how to cultivate those 21st-century skills, they can do it with minimal technology.”

Saito, who has taught in both public and private schools, adds, “I think it’s really up to the teacher and how he or she is going to make learning real for (the students). Being fortunate to have the one-to-one at Punahou, we’re very lucky, but if they took it away from me and I had to teach without it, I could do it. It would just take some getting used to again.”

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.

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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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