"God is going high tech."
That's how Jorge Peña, an associate principal of De La Salle Institute, a Catholic high school in Chicago, describes the school's decision to have all of its 360 incoming freshmen lease tablet PCs. It's the next big step in a program started about five years ago to equip teachers with laptops. Among the reasons the school switched to tablets for teachers: They can write on them while facing students and use projectors to beam lessons on a whiteboard.
Each freshman's tablet will be loaded with four textbooks: Algebra 1, world history, French or Spanish, and the Bible, all of them on PDF files that can be printed out. The tablets also are equipped with Microsoft Office and handwriting recognition software, another reason the school went with the devices. "Most students don't type 40 words a minute, and that wouldn't be fair," Peña says.
De La Salle is part of a national discussion about the importance of equipping individual students with computers. In Michigan, about 23,000 students and 1,500 teachers in 100 school districts participate in a program, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard, in which students get their own wireless HP notebooks and are allowed to learn at their own pace. Of 4,245 students (mostly sixth-graders) who completed a survey released this month, more than 60% say the notebooks increased their interest in learning. More than 87% want the computers next year, and nearly 60% say they make schoolwork easier.
At De La Salle, the tablets (which students lease for $56 a month over 46 months) are also part of a new program for those interested in studying technology. It's offering a computer network class in which students can obtain A+ certification, after which they will work in the school's computer repair center. "We are building a workforce of IT students," Peña says. So far, 18 boys and 12 girls have signed up for the classes, which will be taught by a former systems analyst who made a recent career change into teaching, and a former computer repair professional who was a student teacher last year at De La Salle.
De La Salle's students, who come from middle-class families, see IT as a promising profession, Peña says, adding, "They see technology work as moving up on the social-economic ladder."
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