A rural education advocate says a proposed $100 million plan to replace Alabama’s textbooks with computers might not be in the best interest of rural students.
Larry Lee, a former director of the Center for Rural Alabama, said that although technology is important, he could think of better uses for that $100 million, such as transportation, smaller class sizes, and more early-childhood education, according to a story on Al.com, a news website by The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, and Mobile’s Press-Register.
“When it comes to technology, there’s an awful lot of wanting to keep up with the Joneses,” he said in the story. “We’ve jumped and gotten laptops but yet it was disastrous, because we did not have professional development for the faculty to go along with it. And we certainly didn’t consider that we didn’t have the right infrastructure to support all the computers.”
State department officials quoted in the Al.com story said all schools have the basic infrastructure needed for the devices, but some would need upgrades for servers and bandwith. Internet access is lacking in some rural areas of the state, and that’s a problem in rural communities nationwide.
The two senators who proposed the plan to replace textbooks with laptops and tablet computers contend it would save the state $15 million in textbook replacements. Their bill would cover 75 percent of the cost of the new devices, and districts would have to decide on the type and amount of technology they need.
In the Al.com story, Lee said some poor, rural districts have far more basic needs than technology, such as funding for heating and air conditioning.
The legislation will be considered during the 2014 legislative session, which begins in January. Some see their idea as shortsighted while others see it as forward thinking.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.