Sept. 14, 2011 -- Most remember kindergarten as a time of coloring books, handwriting lessons and chalkboards. Our next generation might look back twenty years from now, recalling how the ancient iPad 2 was so limiting in its features.
As the school year starts up again, a number of wee ones across the country will be tapping fancy iPads while their peers in neighboring states continue to scribble with their No. 2 pencils. Maine, Tennessee and South Carolina, among other states, have launched iPad programs in kindergarten classrooms. For most schools this means the students will be given iPads to supplement teacher instruction.
The school district in Auburn, Maine is doing things differently. A $200,000 initiative will provide iPads to only half of the kindergarteners in each classroom. The other half will have to wait until November. By splitting up the students, the school board hopes to compare the groups and learn whether these magical tablets help young students learn.
District administrators called this initiative "a revolution in education."
Educators also seem excited in South Carolina.
"This is an amazing tool," third-grade teacher Kevin Rokey told The Post and Courier. "The things we're going to be able to do with this are phenomenal."
Many of these pilot programs are too young to have yielded results, and one can only speculate on the drawbacks of such initiatives.
Are the kindergarteners old enough to appreciate the technology? Is taxpayers' money being used wisely? Will the future leaders of this country ever develop handwriting skills?
Online user Gary Savard commented on an article by the Sun Journal in Maine, "Technology is something all students should become familiar with during their school years, but in my mind, they should first learn how to read, write, and do at least basic math before being handed over electronic gadgets ... by the time they are 18 or so, they will not have the capability of making change from a $20 bill on a $11.57 purchase without the cash register telling them the amount."
A community group called Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education posted a poll on its Facebook page asking, "What are some ways Auburn School Department can save money?" Twenty-five of the 28 voters clicked "Drop iPad Program."
For one father with children at a California elementary school, it is about handwriting.
"My only concern, with a lot of these things is, 'How do they learn to write?'" said Thong Tran.
Pilot programs in schools have either already started or will do so in coming weeks. This year will bring the first of many answers to all of those wondering whether iPads in kindergarten are worth it.
But worth it for whom? Kids? Teachers? School districts?
If teachers can keep their jobs, they may be content with students giving their undivided attention ... to the iPad.