While the government's tablet computers for schools scheme moves forward on a larger scale, the policy's continued success will depend on lessons being learned from its first year.One academic year has passed since the Pheu Thai-led government distributed free tablet computers to Prathom 1 (Grade 1) students.
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Those students are now second-graders and have been allowed to take the tablets with them, while the government is procuring more than 800,000 new tablets for the next first-graders.
Still, several problems were identified during the first year of the scheme's implementation and the government must now solve them.
Hardware problems: Complaints on batteries, screens
Waiting for software: Year 2 students need upgrade
Waiting for delivery: Teachers without tablets
From last year, about 860,000 first-graders across the country were offered tablets under a budget of more than 1.7 billion baht.
Several concerns were raised, in particular the students' very young age of six to seven years old.
Critics of the tablet scheme also talked about the negative health impacts and possible addiction to gaming.
The Chinese firm Shenzhen Scope Scientific Development Co (Scope) had been selected as the sole supplier of the tablet computers at a cost of US$82 (2,624 baht) apiece with a two-year warranty.
On May 23 last year, the first lot of 2,000 tablets arrived, with following lots distributed to education service areas based on alphabetical and numerical order by the Education Ministry's Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec).
STUDIES INTO USAGE
According to a survey conducted by the National Statistical Office from Jan 16 to March 31 this year, 97.7% of schools nationwide had been offered tablets and 0.5% had not yet received the devices.
The survey also found 8.9% of all delivered tablets had problems, such as broken screens, programming errors and charging flaws.
Of the schools which had received the tablets, 98.8% of them used the devices in teaching, while only 0.8% did not use them despite having received them.
Most schools allowed students to use tablets for one hour a day.
School executives and teachers interviewed in the study identified three main advantages of the tablet policy.
These are: Encouraging students to pay more attention during lessons; providing students with opportunities to learn basic computer skills; and allowing students to learn anytime and anywhere.
They also identified three main disadvantages.
These were: A reduction in physical exercise; deteriorating handwriting; and and a reduction in human interaction and playing time with friends.
However, most executives and teachers said they were satisfied with the policy overall.
The survey was conducted among 2,854 respondents.
Sangravee Vajavude, director of Rajavinit Mathayom School in Bangkok, said 430 first-graders used tablets as an additional learning tool in all subjects, and they were allowed to take the devices home with their parents' consent.
She said only a few tablets had broken, and these were repaired by the school's technical staff. No tablets had been lost.
She agreed that tablets help keep pupils focused on studying and honed their computer skills and knowledge acquisition from a very young stage.
"They get better grades in Thai and English, compared to Prathom 1 students before the tablet policy was implemented," she said.
"This is because the tablet allows them to listen to accurate accents and pronunciation."
Still, Ms Sangravee has identified some more negative impacts. "Most students now have poorer handwriting, so teachers have to give them more penmanship tasks in the Thai language to improve their handwriting," she said.
"It is a good policy with high investment, and based on the principle of economics, a high investment deserves a high return.
"But this tablet policy is not yet 100% worthwhile."
NO LONGER ENOUGH
A new Prathom 2 student from a private school in Lat Phrao district who was given a tablet to use over the past year said she remembered being excited to receive the device when she was in Prathom 1 level.
She said her teacher spent about a week teaching her how to use the device.
"I don't like the tablet computer any more. I'd prefer an iPad," she said.
She said she now left the tablet computer at home and her teacher never told her to bring it back to use in class.
Now, she says she uses it neither at home nor at school.
Weerachat Soopunyo, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education, said he was concerned the tablets would become electronic junk in the near future as students started to pay less attention to them.
"From what I have seen, some students are not encouraged to study with the tablets any more, as they have learned everything that is installed on them. It's like finishing reading a book," he said.
"Personally, I disagreed with the tablet policy because there are several things that are more crucial and necessary," Mr Weerachat said.
"The huge budget allocated to purchasing the tablet computers could instead have been used to solve the problems of small schools and underprivileged students."
PHASE 2 STUTTERS
Even though both positive and negative impacts have been identified in the tablet scheme, the government has pressed on with its policy to purchase 1.63 million tablets, worth 4.61 billion baht, to distribute to new first-graders and Mathayom 1 (Grade 7) students in the new academic year.
On June 27, Obec held a one-day electronic auction to procure the 1.63 million tablets.
Chinese firm Shenzhen Yitoa Intelligent Control Co won the bid to supply more than 804,000 tablets to Prathom 1 students and teachers nationwide.
Thai firm Supreme Distribution won the bid to distribute 426,683 tablets to Mathayom 1 students and teachers in central and southern provinces.
However, two months into the 2013 academic year, new Prathom 1 students have still not received their tablets under the scheme.
Teachers and students have both been generally pleased by the decision to put tablets in the classroom, but after a year many of these children would like something better, like an iPad. (Bangkok Post file photo)
About the author
- Writer: Lamphai Intathep