Back to school: Read an 8th grader's perfect explanation for why laptops, not tablets, belong in the classroom

By Aidan Chandra, Guest Contributor , written on September 8, 2014

From The News Desk

(Editor’s note: This is a guest post by 13-year-old Aidan Chandra. The post went through Pando’s usual editorial process.)

My name is Aidan Chandra and I’m entering the 8th grade in a couple of days at Woodside Priory in Portola Valley, California. Kids around the country are beginning to go back to school and an increasing number of them are going to be getting school-issued iPads.

More and more schools are getting on the iPad bandwagon and buying them to enhance their students’ educational experience. My younger brother was given an iPad at his elementary school last year, and this year my middle school will be handing out iPads to the students for the first time. Over the past couple of years I’ve alternated between taking my own iPad and a laptop to school, and I’m starting to think that the iPad and other similar tablet devices may have been important transition devices to get educators to embrace technology in the classroom, but they are no longer the best option. The iPad seems to be hitting the mainstream just as the good old fashioned, but vastly improved, laptop is outdoing it.

Ever since its release in April 2010, Apple’s iPad started and led the tablet revolution. This new genre of tablet technology promised to be a light and efficient replacement for your heavy laptop. Four years later, the iPad, along with other major brands of tablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, are still dominating PCs and laptops in sales and showing no signs of slowing down. Tablets offer great convenience, but when it comes to education, has the iPad really fulfilled its original purpose of replacing the time-tested laptop? Best I can tell, schools have made the iPad their main electronic teaching tool because:

  1. They think the applications are useful for a classroom environment and easy to use.
  2. They think of iPads as lighter and easier to carry around than laptops, but with equivalent functionality.
  3. They think of them as a cheaper alternative to laptops.
What most schools do not know is that iPads are not as superior as they may seem and even come with many tradeoffs.

In terms of applications and software, the Apple App Store rightfully has a reputation of providing professional grade applications that offer high-quality options for educators. However, the App Store app comes pre-installed now on all Apple laptops with OSX 10. And the competing laptop OS, Windows 8, has its own version of an app store with similar content, including educational apps. The Windows 8 desktop homepage is basically one giant app store.

The convenience gap is also shrinking between tablets and laptops. When iPads were released in 2010, Apple’s MacBook Pro 13” was a hefty 4.5 pounds, and it was one of the lightest laptops available, while the Generation 1 iPad was 1.5 pounds. Back then it was a no brainer -- an iPad was much easier to carry around. Today there is a new genre of laptop, the 2-in-1, which offers the many features of a tablet, like a touch screen, but they are far lighter than their ancestors. Nowadays the iPad has slimmed down to 1 pound, but laptops have gone on a diet too, and there are great options like the Lenovo Yoga 11, which is only 3.2 pounds. Laptops may not completely catch up to tablets in weight, but they have narrowed the difference significantly to a point where laptops are light enough to comfortably carry around, and the fact that they are still heavier than tablets is outweighed by their greater functionality.

For starters, laptops are a superior document creation tool. Even if you add a keyboard to your iPad (which by the way increases the weight, makes it less convenient, and makes the difference between it and 2-in-1 laptops negligible), you still can’t keep multiple screens open simultaneously. This is really important in middle school and high school where you’re often researching on the web while writing in a separate program like Google Docs or Microsoft Office. Also, the formatting options in Google Docs or Microsoft Office are better and easier to use than tablet document creation apps.

iPads max out at 64 gigabytes of storage, which is another annoying limitation. Device storage is important because students will not always be in WiFi coverage to save their documents to the Cloud. I also find it inconvenient when I use my old iPad that I constantly have to delete my old apps, even if I still find them useful, to make room for newer apps.

The overall computing platform in modern 2-in-1 laptops blows away the iPad. An iPad packs a 64 bit 1.4 kilohertz processor and a single gigabyte of RAM. The Yoga 11, for example, boasts an Intel Pentium N3520 clocked at 2.42 gigahertz, 11” multi-touch display, 4x the RAM of the iPad, and 500 gigabytes of hard drive space (with 16 gigabytes of flash storage which will make the computer boot up almost as fast as an iPad). The larger screen probably adds a bit to the weight but is justified because a laptop’s OS can multi task much more efficiently than an iOS device so why not have additional screen space for multiple open apps?

Looking ahead, I think it will be hard for iPads and their sister tablet devices to keep up with larger apps and cutting edge technologies that may enter the classroom. They likely won’t be able to handle larger files or possess enough power and storage to efficiently use a 3D printer and create 3D models. Just as soon as many schools finish spending their budget on iPads, they are likely to find these iPads to be insufficient for keeping up with newly developing educational technology trends.

So that leads me to my last point about price. iPads only begin to become comparable to laptops when you add in a keyboard and buy the 64 gigabyte storage version. The grand total can easily reach $800. Well, you can buy the Yoga 11 for about $800. By the way, I am not advertising for the Yoga 11, just using it for illustration. As a matter of fact, the genre of 2-in-1 laptops has many similarly priced models that perform nearly the same as the Yoga 11.

My point is not to outcast the iPad as a useless metal slate. I am all for technology in the classroom and the cheapest version of the iPad (and other cheaper tablet devices) has extreme potential for use in low-income schools in the U.S. and abroad. My point is that I don’t think the iPad is a good option for schools that can afford better technology, because recent 2-in-1 laptops come with a lot with more advantages. These schools are spending their limited budgets on a device that might end up being more of a fad than a long-term solution for them.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas]