What They Want, What You Need: Technology and Back-to-School Shopping

by Matt Klassen on August 21, 2015

There are thousands of websites and blogs that will tell you the hottest tech gadgets and devices for heading back to school; I’m betting this is the only blog that will tell you to ignore them all.

I mean, what does a smartphone have to do with heading back to school? If you’re a parent with kids set to return to school, it’s likely you’ve never really considered this question, mostly because tech retailers really don’t want you to think about it and your kids think the answer is blindingly obvious: smartphones are an inexorable and necessary part of returning to school, and the same goes for tablets, game consoles, cameras and every other digital doodad and whatchamacallit. Spoiler Alert: They’re not.

In fact, parents often find themselves buried under a torrent of targeted tech advertising designed specifically to convince you that your children, regardless of their age, need the latest and greatest technology to learn; a sentiment your children will likely echo. But technological wish lists aside, in this modern age of mobile devices—smartphones, tablets, netbooks, portable video game consoles and everything in between—what do your children really need as they prepare to return to school?

Let me say at the outset that for the most part schools are woefully inept at teaching the technological skills our kids will need to operate in tomorrow’s digital world. But in the same breath, let me also say that I think that that’s okay. The reason I don’t think smartphones or tablets should be apart of any back-to-school purchasing list is because they are, for the most part, not useful tools in the education process (at least not yet).

Schools are not prepared to teach your kids technological ethics, proper mobile etiquette, or even proper use of smartphones or tablets, thus, until your children are old enough to truly start to grasp the responsibilities of using mobile technology, leave those devices out of the picture.

Now that’s not to say parents shouldn’t be teaching those technological skills to their kids at home, but that belies the notion that smartphones are essential for anything to do with heading back to school. Parents are free to decide when their kids are ready for mobile technology, but for the love of everything good, please don’t think your kids need a smartphone or a tablet to effectively learn. That idea is nothing but marketing hogwash.

So when it comes to technological choices for grade schoolers, the answer is remarkably simple: nothing is best. That’s not to say that kids shouldn’t have an introduction to the digital world through the supervised use of a home computer, but mobile devices come with too much risk for such a small reward for this age group.

For high school students, I will say again that mobile technology has literally nothing to do with the educational process. The only choice here will be whether or not your children will need a serviceable Internet-connected laptop to effectively do research and work, one that possibly could also serve basic gaming needs as well (it’s up to you). If the budget is tight, don’t for a second think your kids need mobile technology in high school, as again most schools come equipped with the technology needed in the curriculum.

At the university level technological choices become both important and more difficult, as retailers will tell you that mobile technology and computing devices are all “must haves”.  It’s here that you’ll need to make some decisions, are you looking for educational tools or simply technological gadgets?

As a former university instructor and a technology blogger, let me offer this advice: If you want to strike a solid balance, consider a modestly equipped laptop, one that offers educational, communication and entertainment tools, along with a smartphone in line with your budget. Retailers will try to up-sell you to be sure (aided by your kids no doubt), but stand firm, tablets, high end smartphones, or any other mobile technology are largely unnecessary, meant for fun but not really for productivity.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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