“Pack your iPads kids, we’re off to school.”
While this phrase may seem far-fetched to many local families, the growing use of digital technology is impossible to ignore.
Cook Islands Ministry of Education director of information technology and communication Robert Matheson says the ministry is looking to purchase up to 183 laptops and mini iPads, at about $550 each.
“The devices will be going to schools to maintain our goal of a 5:1 student: device ratio and some of them will be going to teachers as the start of our replacement schedule for the ‘netbooks for teachers’ programme introduced a few years back.”
The ministry already has about 60 iPads, laptops and tablets that have been available to schools through a booking system. This has been in place for the last couple of years and is designed to allow schools to try technology before deciding which way to go with it, he says.
The 5:1 ratio strategy is part of the ministry’s goal of “equitable access” – making sure students have the opportunity to participate and learn using the technology tools of our current environment.
And they’re going a step further. Matheson said “BYOD” is already happening in the Cook Islands.
“We are designing our IT infrastructure to accommodate a ‘bring your own browser’ type of solution.”
However Nukutere College head of art and IT, Clark Williams says there are pros and cons to this kind of 21st century learning.
“It’s something that’s needed because the kids need to be technology-literate to go over to New Zealand and compete with everyone else.”
The positives, says Williams, are that devices such as computer tablets have the potential to cut down planning time for teachers: there’s no need for time-consuming photocopying when everyone can view a project on their computer screen.
In terms of creative research, Williams says in art, his classroom computer tablet is mainly used by the students to search for images.
On the digital downside, Williams says there is usually always a range of abilities in the classroom.
“So you get kids who have got them at home and are really good at using computers and kids that are just stuck.
“And then for a teacher having to go around the class and help with technology is just not ideal.”
It would also be useful for every school to have access to an iPad, so teachers could test out the devices before planning their lessons, he said.
Two of William’s tech-savvy year seven students, Christian Holford and Tutai Herman, think if every student had a computer tablet it would be ‘pretty cool’.
Tutai says the devices are particularly useful for internet research, and Christian says students even use their phones as calculators these days.
“But we shouldn’t be allowed to use them too much,” said Christian.
“Like playing games... ‘cos then it’s distracting.”
New Zealand CORE Education director of eLearning, Derek Wenmoth says there are a number of factors pushing education towards BYOD.
“There’s the digital futures imperative – young people these days will require a high level of digital literacy to participate meaningfully in an increasingly digital culture and world.”
To implement a successful BYOD programme requires a significant amount of thinking, planning and infrastructural support, he says.
“The Cook Islands will, of course, face its own set of issues as they progress down this path.”
In terms of the Cook Islands place in the digital journey, Wenmoth estimates the country is where New Zealand was about five or six years ago.
And he says infrastructure, access to devices and teacher’s professional development need to line up before the full benefits can be reached.
“Otherwise it’s like buying lots of cars before the roads have been built or anyone has been taught how to drive them.”
And there remains the serious issue of equal access: some families may be able to afford computer devices, while many may not.
Wenmoth said this is being addressed in New Zealand through local trusts and philanthropists who are supporting those least able to afford devices.
But for now, some classes in the Cook Islands can expect to be clicking and swiping on their new iPads by term four this year.