OUR VIEW: Computers are still a valuable education tool

By Daily News • Last Updated 10:02 am on Thursday, December 29, 2011

Central Montcalm Public School has distributed about 1,100 Apple MacBook laptop computers to middle school and high school students.

Central Montcalm Public School was on the cutting edge for area school districts last year, when it launched a laptop initiative. All high school and middle school students are receving an Apple MacBook laptop. The school is buying the hardware and Apple is providing all the software for free. Other schools were talking about a similar idea, but Central Montcalm was the first to jump in with both feet.
But as another sign that teens know more about computers than most adults, a Central Montcalm High School student thwarted security measures on his school-issued laptop just before Christmas break. Impressed with their success, he and other students did the same to dozens of other students’ laptops.
The students involved could face criminal charges and a hefty restitution bill for Casair to inspect and repair all 1,100 school issued laptops.
In the wake of the controversy, some people are saying the district moved too quickly establishing the program and the computers should be taken away from students. At the very least, students shouldn’t be able to take them home, some say.
Quite the contrary should be true, however. Students need computers nowadays. Education must be culturally relevant and that means computers today. Our society quickly is becoming paperless. Almost everything is being done on computers these days. Ask us, ink on paper is becoming a little more scarce every day.
That has limitless potential and ramifications for schools. Worksheets that used to be completed with a pen and paper increasingly are moving to digital formats. Many classes include video and multimedia lessons. A few schools in West Michigan are toying with the idea of having students watch all of the lectures on video, then allow teachers to facilitate work groups in the classroom to apply the material they learn. Some classes are even conducted entirely over the Internet.
Students need computers at home and at school to make that all happen. We’re confident laptop programs like Central Montcalm’s will be the norm rather than the exception in a few short years. Greenville Public Schools is making big strides in that direction with a plan to equip high school and middle school students with handheld tablets or smartphones (that don’t have phone or text functions). Vestaburg Community Schools are working on a similar program, as well.
Schools are using their computers for more than just classroom instruction. Some students are receiving Internet safety instruction, such as how to prevent identity theft and tips for staying safe on social media websites like Facebook. Those will be a big part of students’ lives well after they graduate, so school is the appropriate place to teach some of the basics.
If anything, Central Montcalm’s hacking controversy is a good teaching moment. Computers bring a lot of responsibility with them. They are the most expensive item many students own, so they need to learn how to properly care for them. There are laws and rules governing files downloaded, shared and viewed.
Students may have a burning desire to play the latest video game and the wherewithal to break down security barriers to download it. But if the rules say downloads aren’t allowed, then don’t do it and don’t expect to get away with it.
Imagine if these students knocked out security blocks and downloaded a video game 10 years from now when they have a career and their employer owns the computer. They’d be fired on the spot, along with whatever criminal charges may come their way.
At least now, the school district likely will be somewhat lenient and use the incident to teach the offenders — and their classmates — a good lesson. They can’t expect similar treatment in the future. That would be a harsh lesson.

Editorial opinions are a consensus of The Daily News editorial board.

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