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Article: What Can $50 Get You?

by on July 27, 2005

An iBook. No, it’s not a scam, and if you already know what I’m talking about, good for you. You can skip the next paragraph or so. For everyone else, Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia is selling about 1000 of their iBook G3s to anyone who shows up in two weeks. These iBooks have been retired from use, and the school district is merely trying to get rid of them.

Schools get rid of computers all the time – most progressive school systems have been using computers more and more as teaching tools. The iBooks are perfect for this, since they last a long time between charges, are durable, and have a pretty decent track record for reliability. Free multimedia software (iLife for those of you playing at home) makes the package even sweeter. Best of all, the thread of viruses, spyware, and adware is nonexistent.

This isn’t really a Mac vs. Windows thing. Most young people can adapt to the changes quite easily. I work at a school with an iBook program and the iBooks are the first modern Macs many students have seen—within a month, they’ve all but mastered a lot of things, and by the time they graduate, are sad to get rid of their iBooks. Some even ask about student discounts on Apple hardware for college.

No, this is really a money thing. The schools in Virginia bought the iBooks using taxpayer money. For various reasons, they decided to go against what was said by Dr. Mark Edwards, the Superintendent, in 2001:

“We considered other companies for this initiative, but selected Apple because of its long-time commitment to education.”

Too bad Henrico didn’t have that same commitment to Apple. The school will be replacing all of the iBooks with Dells. I’m sure some of the failures of motherboards and display cables in these relatively old iBooks have left a bad taste in their mouths, but failures are always expected in such a huge batch. Dell has problems, too. My personal thoughts are that someone saw that the iBooks were a few hundred dollars more than the cheapest Dell models and decided to cut costs. It all comes down to money…

Many taxpayers are furious with the decision to sell the iBooks. Rather than give the option of purchasing a soon-to-be-retired iBook to the student that is using it, all the iBooks will be sold for one day only to the public. Seniors, however, will get to buy theirs. The other gripe is that anyone in the area on that day can pick up an iBook (limit one per person), instead of just the taxpayers who put the program in place.

Still, is $50 enough respect for these machines? I’m sure they’re not in the best condition, but with 320MB of RAM, AirPort, and some other goodies, they’re still a steal. Clearly the school wants to get rid of them badly, although they should be recycled to other schools.

The problem is with any educational institution and computer equipment. In many cases, they can’t even sell their computers, instead putting them in a warehouse when nobody wants to use them anymore, the last stop before the trash heap. Otherwise, a person or committee decides that one platform is not good anymore, and ditches all of the perfectly good machines for new ones. Sometimes a switch back occurs when new management takes over.

Instead of wasting money and selling out to the lowest bidder, educational institutions should look for what will last the longest, what’s backed the best if trouble does happen, and how well something works for what they need. Apple offers the best things for schools, if they choose to embrace it. Still, many have never embraced things like iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, and the countless other things that could improve the classroom experience. Most of the time “school computers” mean Word, Excel, sometimes PowerPoint, and a web browser. Students usually find a way to customize them, but unless educators take the steps to enhance their way of teaching to embrace new technologies, students might as well be using Windows 95.

In a perfect world, schools would buy the best tools for the task, and actually use them. Letting lazy tech people and corporate pimps push decision-makers around wouldn’t happen. Students would be able to make the best use of this accessible technology and make it part of their school careers, but what do I know? I just see and read about how it is, and know what it could be.

In summary, the problem is money. Rather then spending a little more on something that works better for education, “the bottom line” always matters more. Schools spend taxpayer money on equipment, they should keep it around, and then “retire” it in the best way in the interest of the taxpayers. Henrico Schools should offer the iBooks to all the students first, or even send them to schools that will use them for basic functions. Schools are always looking to add computers, yet Henrico must have too many to spare.

If you are in that area on August 9th, go grab yourself one of these iBooks. They’ll be great for Internet, music, or basic photo editing, and at $50 you can’t go wrong. It also looks like someone else will be giving iBooks a try at school…

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