Parents question use of iPad

The shouting match over iPad 2s did not take place in a dodgy electronics shop between a sleazy salesman and a tourist.

Instead, it took place in one of Singapore's top secondary schools between parents and school authorities.

River Valley High School (RVHS) plans to get all its 2,800 students and teachers to use Apple's handheld tablet computer for lessons.

And the furious exchange took place during a briefing session, when some parents questioned the decision.

Their concerns also included the device's cost - about $700 - and access to unsuitable material on the Internet.

The school's principal, Mr Koh Yong Chiah, told TheNew Paper they had been planning for more than a year to implement the programme.

He said the main purpose is to use infocomm technology to enhance learning.

The first briefing session was held for parents of Secondary 1 children during the first week of January.

Parents The New Paper spoke to said that session did not have any incidents.

But housewife B. Tan, 42, said she left the session with a nagging concern: "The school did not show us how exactly our children would be learning through theiPad."

It was during the second briefing session on Jan 13 for parents of Sec 2 students that the disruptions happened.

Students had been allowed to attend both sessions.

A Sec 2 student, who witnessed what happened but declined to be named, said: "There was a parent who kept shouting and interrupting even when the principal was trying to explain things to him.

"There was another parent who did not back down in spite of having her questions answered."

The student added that the situation grew so tense that the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) head allegedly said: "If you don't trust that the school is trying to help your children in their learning, then don't participate in the programme or take them out of the school."

When asked about the matter, Mr Koh said the male parent "wasn't asking questions", but was opposing what he was saying.

As for the PTA head, who is a parent volunteer with the school, Mr Koh said she had made the remarks as she was "upset and disturbed".

He also told TNP that the school recognises the parents' concerns are "valid" and is aware of the online comments.

"The parents' concerns are also ours," he said.

RVHS is not the only school here using educational technology in a big way. (See report on facing page.)

Mr Koh intends to roll out the school's plan in phases from mid-March this year, and he hopes that by the end of this year, the iPad2 will be used in 30 per cent of their lessons.

He intends to increase this percentage to 50 per cent by the end of next year.

Because of these figures, some parents told TNP they felt "pressurised" to buy an iPad2 for their children.

Said businessman M Lim, 44, whose daughter is in Sec 1: "If I don't buy it, I fear that she will lose out inlessons.

"But I'm also uncomfortable with the pressure of the deadline of submission to purchase the iPad2.

Although the deadline is Feb 1, they were told to submit the form two weeks before that."

Parents were told that if they were to buy the iPad2 from the school's supplier, it would be "$200" cheaper than if they purchased it on their own.

But Mr Koh said it is "not compulsory" for students to buy the iPad2.

Students who cannot afford one will either receive school subsidies or be loaned a set for free.

Other parents questioned if there was a need for the device.

The father of a Sec 3 student, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, 45, said: "A lot of things are good to have, but how much more will they be learning via the iPad in comparison to textbooks?"

Online forum

Added a parent on an online forum: "The school is already doing so well without iPads. There is really no need to introduce it."

When The New Paper looked at the forum yesterday, there were at least 50 comments by concerned parents on the issue.

Mr Koh said one of the uses of the iPad 2 in lessons would be to simplify complex concepts.

And what about security of the iPads?

Mr Koh said each student will have lockers to store the iPads and that more CCTVs would be installed in the school.

Another fear the parents have is that their children will get addicted to games and other sites on their iPads.

Mr Lim said he was told at the briefing that in school, cyber wellness was the teachers' responsibility.

But at home, it would be the parents'.

He asked: "Why is the school giving me additional things to do?"

Mr Koh said the school has stepped up its cyber wellness education efforts to guide students on the use of iPads.

A Sec 2 RVHS male student, who declined to be named, said: "I really don't know if I'd prefer learning from an iPad to learning from a teacher."

One Sec 3 student added: "Textbooks may be heavier, but I'm used to them and I prefer learning from them. Learning from an iPad would be a sudden change for me."

This article was first published in The New Paper.