The proof of the tablet is in the reading (and writing)

Our pledge of giving a tablet to each and every child as from Year 4 in State, Church and Independent primary schools opens up new possibilities not just to our children but also to our educators.

I still remember my first day at school a very long time ago. I recollect going to the stationery to buy a pencil, a copybook and an eraser, the staples for any student at the time.

Fast-forward to today and the arsenal of today’s young learners sports much more than the traditional writing instruments. It now includes a computing device and Internet access.

No one can deny that technology continues to shape education at all levels, opening up new possibilities which I, as a child, couldn’t even dream of.

Our pledge of giving a tablet to each and every child as from Year 4 in State, Church and Independent primary schools opens up new possibilities not just to our children but also to our educators.

Teachers are on the front-line of our education system and while we all admit that our children feel quite confident using the latest technology, our teachers need to feel just as prepared and comfortable to exploit the potential of tablets in the classroom.

For this very simple reason the government has decided to go for the longer but ultimately more productive route of conducting a pilot project with tablets rather than just get tablets at a good price, dump them in the classrooms, call the media and boast that the electoral promise has been kept.

Experience with the introduction of new technology in the classroom has taught us, the hard way, how the primary focus should be on the teacher and the student rather than the technology, if we want technology to succeed and serve as a valuable tool.

Indeed the whole One Tablet Per Child initiative is being managed as an educational project and not a technological one. Educators are in the driving seat.

The scope of the pilot project with tablets is to evaluate the best way to introduce tablets in the primary classroom and maximise the benefits that this technology brings to teaching and learning, especially literacy. Indeed the tablets initiative is framed within the National Literacy Strategy for All published a few months ago.

The pilot project is limited to around 400 students in 20 State, Church and Independent schools in Year 3, 4 or 5 across Malta and Gozo. All teachers are volunteers and they will be using tablets loaned by local and international tablet suppliers based on iOS, Android and Windows software. The suppliers came forward with their tablet solutions and are investing, between them, around €200,000 in hardware, software, training and support.

This is just the first step in our long and winding road of introducing tablets in our classrooms as promised. We have a lot of questions that need to be answered, ranging from a simple “what is the ideal screen size?” to “how can our students read and write more and better with the help of the tablet both at school and at home?”.

 Some parents seem very impatient to have the tablet. Others are protesting, quite forcefully, at the fact that their child is not getting the tablet as promised, genuinely mistaking the pilot project with a limited number of students for the actual national roll-out. We will keep our promise to give a tablet to each child as from Year 4 of the primary school but only after we have successfully concluded the pilot towards the end of this scholastic year, done the procurement of the ideal tablet solution based on the evaluation of the pilot, delivered the training to teachers and gave them time to familiarise themselves with the technology, and upgraded Internet access in State schools to cater for the increased demand brought by the tablet.

Just like teaching a child how to hold a pencil and write legibly, it takes time to assimilate and effectively use technology that costs hundreds of times more. We don’t want to see money washed down the drain because the focus is on the technology rather than the teacher and the student.

I wish good luck to the educators and students in the pilot project with tablets and thank them for helping us make the right choices when giving the tablet to our children. I promise you that we will listen to their comments and act on their suggestions.