By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor
This past Christmas may have been the Christmas of the eReader. Santa’s little elves, Kindle and Nook, were working overtime this year to stuff stockings. I have been amazed at how many of those devices have been coming into schools after break this year. It seems as if eReaders have hit the tipping point and now have an added momentum. This is in a district with a poverty rate above 40%. Later this month, one of my teachers is organizing a class for the public since she has been getting all sort of questions about using them and feels many of the users are not bringing the devices to their full potential. Several of my staff members have also bought new devices for themselves or family members this year.
Recently, I have seen a number of situations arise where the school or library leadership hasn’t addressed the issue of children in poverty. One school librarian was promoting their eBook program but when queried about how those without readers could access the materials; the librarian stated the school had some loaners. However, children wanting to use loaners, needed to leave a $150 security deposit for the device. Clearly, this would be limiting to many families, particularly when many don’t even have checking accounts from which to write such a deposit.A public library is being protested for purchasing eBooks and other electronic resources since all patrons are unable to access them. The library hasn’t articulated how they make those items available to patrons without access to eReaders. Perhaps they should consider some type of loaner program; one without a hefty deposit. The protesters only want print books purchased, so everyone can have equal access. Of course, I am not sure how that is the case where not all patrons speak the same language or have the same reading levels. Similarly, I am nearly certain that school and libraries ordering eBooks are also ordering paper copies of the same items. However, it is the public feeling that some are being disenfranchised that is concerning.
Public libraries and public schools have often been the way in which new technologies are introduced to school children and in many school districts. When I was a high school principal, we had a 1:1 laptop program for students and many of those students were unable to pay for their computers. We worked with a number of local agencies and businesses to find funding, so no child was excluded from the program because of need. Such an approach is essential. Especially those of us in public schools must ensure that we are providing for the needs of all of our children. We cannot allow any of our children to be left on the wrong side of the digital divide.
As technology leaders in schools develop plans for bringing more technology into schools and particularly in those programs where there is a BYOD (bring your own device) component, it is essential to ensure that the issue of equity and equal access for all children has been considered and that a solid plan is in place to address those issues. Reaching out to local service organizations and businesses may assist the district in providing better access for all children both during and outside of the school day.
Steven M. Baule is currently superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.