September 29, 2011

“My vision of a new kind of learning environment demands free contact between children and computers. This could happen because the child’s family buys one or a child’s friends have one. For purposes of discussion here (and to extend our discussion to all social groups) let us assume that it happens because schools give every one of their students his or her own powerful personal computer. Most “practical” people (including parents, teachers, school principals, and foundation administrators) react to this idea in much the same way: “Even if computers could have all the effects you talk about, it would still be impossible to put your ideas into action. Where would the money come from?”

What these people are saying needs to be faced squarely. They are wrong. Let’s consider the cohort of children who will enter kindergarten in the year 1987, the “Class of 2000,” and let’s do some arithmetic. The direct public cost of schooling a child for thirteen years, from kindergarten through twelfth grade is over $20,000 today (and for the class of 2000, it may be closer to $30,000). A conservatively high estimate of the cost of supplying each of these children with a personal computer with enough power for it to serve the kinds of educational ends described in this book, and of upgrading, repairing, and replacing it when necessary would be about $1,000 per student, distributed over thirteen years in school. Thus, “computer costs” for the class of 2,000 would represent only about 5 percent of the total public expenditure on education, and this would be the case even if nothing else in the structure of educational costs changed because of the computer presence.”

Papert, S. (1981) Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. NY: Basic Books. Foreword – “Gears of My Childhood.”

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