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iPads in education: where to draw the line?

By Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings.

Apple's iPad is rapidly finding its way into education systems all over the world. Schools in countries as diverse as South Korea, the Netherlands, Thailand, the UK and the US are using the best-selling tablet to supplement, and in some cases even entirely replace, traditional teaching methods. In South Korea, printed textbooks are no longer used at all. In the Netherlands, a chain of private schools is soon to open that doesn't have any traditional teaching methods at all: pupils will instead use iPads to learn at their own pace. iPads also have considerable advantages for developing countries: there is a large number of freely available apps for them, and the units are competitively priced and portable.

Richard Firth, serial entrepreneur and CEO of MIP Holdings, believes iPads certainly have a place in the classroom of the future, but he cautions that, while this tool is great for primary school children, it should be replaced with a notebook computer in high school.

"The iPad is good for junior schools. It simplifies IT and it's a consumption tool. At this level, primary school learners are consumers of information and we have found that the iPad works very well for them."

Firth says that, just as in the workplace, where tablets are excellent productivity tools for consumers of information but not so much for creators, schools with older pupils should not be using consumption tools to teach IT.

"Tablets don't teach kids how to actually use IT. The types of projects high school students need to do, such as creating Web sites and writing programs, can't be done with an iPad. It is not a productivity tool, it's a consumption tool. There is a logical cut-over in the education process to where high school learners become creators of information rather than consumers, so the right tool needs to be chosen carefully."

The other disadvantage of tablets is their strongly personal nature. Laptops and desktops can be managed in the context of a school's IT environment, but tablets cannot, notes Firth.

"For instance, it must be left up to the pupil to back up the device because no one else can access an individual's iCloud. If it gets lost, all the school work is gone. A laptop, whether personal or not, at least allows for backups when pupils use the school IT ecosystem."

It is too early to tell what impact iPads will have on the education process as a whole, says Firth. The product itself didn't even exist five years ago and educators are still finding out what works and what doesn't in the classroom.

"There is a definite mode of use of a tablet that should not be ignored by schools. However, high school pupils that are learning IT or programming, or any other kind of problem solving, should not be using a media consumption device as the platform to do so," he concludes.

MIP Holdings

MIP Holdings

MIP Holdings is one of the world's leaders in the provision of 'risk-based' billing services to mainly, but not exclusively, the financial services industry. The company designs and develops software solutions that focus on the collection of contributions and payment of benefits in the healthcare, employee benefits and life assurance sectors, as well as in personal finance, integrated lending systems and treasury.

With a focus on meeting client-specific requirements and through extensive investment in technology, MIP 'future proofs' its solutions. Strict adherence to industry standards, as well as stringent internal control over standards and quality assurance, ensure the systems MIP develops meet all client expectations.

Expanding into the telecoms sector through its purchase of Itemate, MIP Holdings provides telecoms operations and management solutions to communications service providers worldwide. The company's specific skills in the area of mobile prepaid value chains, prepaid product life cycle management analysis, voucher management systems and mobile financial services enable it to provide an end-to-end service. Its most recent acquisition, Waytag, further enhanced the company's ability to provide a comprehensive solution to its clients through the unique Waytag offering of location-based services.

MIP Holdings was founded in 1989 and is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, with additional offices in Cape Town and Pretoria.