Schools need devices both as a tool for learning but also in being prepared for lockdown situations such as those currently being experienced, whether these come about due to a pandemic or due to another cause.

In the UK some work has been done on getting devices to students, some through the DfE and some through charities and other groups, or even schools themselves trying to gather up devices and distribute for use of students.

We have come a long way however we have some way to go.

Now I will note that we can’t ignore that devices themselves aren’t enough.   We need internet access, and the required infrastructure which provides this, which currently not all have.   I have posted previously in relation to the need for infrastructure.   Additionally, we need training for parents, students and teachers plus we need support structures so they can seek help when needed.

The other big concern I have however is sustainability.   We may have issued devices to many students during the course of the pandemic however this is only a temporary solution.  This effort and investment solves the issue for some students as it is now and for the short term future however in 3 or 4 years time the devices which have been issued will be out of date, may have failing batteries or may no longer be supporting updates to their operating systems, and may represent a cyber risk.  At this point we will find ourselves back where we were 1 year ago when the pandemic began.   Once again, we will find ourselves in need of effort and investment to get replacement devices into the hands of our students.

I remember back to “laptops for teachers” and to working in schools some 4 or 5 years later.   The devices needed replacement however the original centralised funding was no longer present and schools themselves didn’t have the funding in place to replace the laptops which teaching staff had been given access to.   What we really need, isnt just investment and effort now, what we need is a longer-term strategy and plan which lays out how we will make sure our efforts now are sustainable and constant into the future.

As to the specifics of the devices themselves, I have at times showed preference for iPads, for Chromebooks and also more recently for Microsoft Surface devices.   In reality, despite my changing personal preferences, I recognise that each device has its advantages and may fit differing contexts so acknowledge that there is no single answer.   For me the key needs are devices which have good battery life, are portable, robust and reliable.    I also think inking ability is becoming increasingly useful although may not quite be a requirement yet.  A decent camera is also a requirement however this is now a standard feature of modern devices. 

There is also the issue of whether all students should have access to the same device or whether it is ok for students in the same class to have different devices and to bring their own device.   Each of these two options has its challenges.   For example, a single device is a challenge in terms of cost whereas bring your own devices is challenging in terms of teachers supporting different devices and the lack of consistency.    Again, I don’t think there is a single best answer, it is very much dependent in the context of the individual school.

Thinking about it, the key issue in relation to devices, is simply ensuring that teachers and students have access to a device.   Once students have the required digital tool, it is then possible to make use of it to support, enhance and even reimagine learning. 

Access to devices is another fundamental requirement if we are to effectively use technology in learning and in schools.


Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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