At Macworld Expo earlier this month, Steve Jobs announced that the state of Maine had committed to the biggest purchase of laptop computers ever for education. Maine plans to equip every seventh and eighth grader and their teachers with a total of 36,000 iBooks over the next couple of years, along with wireless networks and a support infrastructure. While many in Maine are looking forward to seeing the initiative in action, it’s not without controversy. Recounting the debate is Ruth-Ellen Cohen of the
Bangor Daily News
who penned a recent article entitled
Laptop foe cites abuse in Virginia.
Cohen refers specifically to Mary Adams’ recent comments posted to her Web site,
AdamsReport.com. Billed as “A Tri-State Common Sense Commentary,” Adams’ Web site is a forum for conservative issues specific to the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Adams’ editorial is entitled
Governor Laptop … or
The title refers to Maine governor Angus King, who has earned the nickname “Governor Laptop” for his support of the iBook-based educational initiative.
In her alarmist critique of Maine’s decision to buy the iBooks, Adams cited the experience of Henrico County, Va. The same day Apple introduced the new, redesigned iBook last May, Henrico County was touted as the first major success. Adams’ source for her complaints is a column penned by Ray Wallace at the
Wallace claimed that tech support and service for the iBooks was “inadequate,” and noted that all the iBooks had to be recalled in order to install security software to prevent kids from downloading Internet porn. Wallace said that teachers “remain discouraged” and “threatened” because of administrative and logistical issues related to the deployment of the computers.
“If we don’t learn from Henrico County’s experience and pull out of the laptop program now, we could very well be looking at Maine’s future,” concluded Adams.
Adams overlooked Henrico County’s continuing efforts to correct the problems it has identified, except to mention the recall of iBooks to have security software installed. The recall is an issue that Adams plans to break out in a separate editorial.
Bangor Daily News’
Cohen spoke with Maine Department of Education spokesman Yellow Light Breen, who said that his state agency has done exactly that. Breen told Cohen that the folks coordinating the effort in Maine were aware of some of the technical issues afoot and became aware later of other problems, like porn access.
Admitting that nothing is foolproof, Breen told Cohen that the Department of Education will “take all reasonable steps” to make sure that the iBooks they receive are used securely and filter against inappropriate content. Even then, though, “there’s still the need for the right policy and the right supervision.”