Penn Manor’s Student Computer Program Offers Lesson to Other School Districts | Our opinion


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THE PROBLEM

Some Lancaster County school districts are moving away from Apple devices that only run Apple operating systems, as LNP reported on Monday. This follows a national trend: According to Futuresource Consulting, a research firm, Apple’s MacBooks and iPads have lost ground in education and have fallen to third place behind the more affordable Chromebooks and Windows devices. One district, Penn Manor, goes even further in its efforts to save taxpayer dollars.

Of the 17 school districts (including Octorara) serving Lancaster County, 11 have individual initiatives that lend students in certain classes a laptop or tablet computer to use for educational purposes.

You can argue, as conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat did in Tuesday’s LNP, that children should be forced “to learn books for years before they are asked to go to school.” line to do research ”.

But such arguments do not really fly today. Schoolchildren are “digital natives”, immersed in technology from an early age. This has drawbacks, as any parent who has ever tried to get the attention of a child who is texting will know.

But technology also allows students to talk to their counterparts in classrooms around the world; not to just look at photographs of, say, the White House, but to take a virtual tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The world is theirs, with just a few touches of a screen or keyboard.

And as they progress from elementary school to high school, computers become more and more indispensable. Homework and research resources are online; essays are written in Google Docs for student and teacher to edit.

This is today’s reality, and there is no going back.

For example, 11 local school districts decided that it was necessary to provide students with laptops or notebooks, in order to level the playing field between those who have the resources to buy such devices and those who do not. not. It is an academically justifiable decision, but it is also costly.

That’s why Penn Manor looked for ways to cut costs.

When it launched its personal notebook program in 2013, this neighborhood did not go for Apple computers; instead, he chose reasonably priced laptops. And he rejected expensive software packages and chose to use free and open source software.

Instead of buying laptops with Windows licenses and expensive software packages, the district installed a free operating system called Linux on their laptops.

Penn Manor also chose to use LibreOffice, which is also free and offers programs equivalent to Microsoft’s PowerPoint, Word and Excel.

The district further reduced costs by launching a technology learning program for students: students help staff the 1: 1 help desk and provide technical assistance to other students.

Other districts have technical teams of students. But at Penn Manor, the Apprenticeship Program is a specialist-level independent study program. Given their many responsibilities, apprentices gain valuable experience and self-confidence and save the district $ 100,000 per year in technology support costs.

This is in addition to the million dollars Penn Manor has saved since 2013 using open source software and Linux throughout the district.

A million dollars over four years may not seem like a lot of money in terms of school district budgets. But it adds up.

And we wonder why other school districts are not following suit.

Charlie Reisinger, chief technology officer at Penn Manor, notes that the district’s individual program requires that trust be placed in students.

When using an open source operating system like Linux, students can download open source software, which anyone, not just software programmers, can “inspect, modify, and improve,” as opensource explains. com.

That, Penn Manor officials decided, was fine.

In fact, students are encouraged to “dig deep into the devices” to become confident and savvy users of the technology. Reisinger said the guiding principle is to make students “full participants in their education.”

The benefits were therefore more than financial.

We understand that school districts are faced with an incredibly complex array of choices on everything from catering supplies to gym equipment to technology programs. It’s probably much easier to pay for prepackaged software and known and known operating systems.

But Penn Manor took another route. For Reisinger, the district’s tech program is akin to a Lancaster County barn: “Using free and open source software building blocks, it is being built from scratch and with the help of students. This is the essence of a learning community.

Penn Manor’s method may not work for all districts. But it’s innovative, it reduced costs and it improved the education of students in the process. Other districts should consider the possibilities.

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Gordon K. Morehouse