'I thought it was a mistake when a MacBook Air was listed on the booklist'


When the school Lisa's son attended told her he needed to bring a laptop to lessons she lasted six months before pulling him out. She explains the behavioural changes she witnessed and why traditional learning is so important.

When my eldest son – then aged eight – brought home his booklist for the following year at his local, public primary school, I did a quick double-take.

There, beneath the HB pencils and scissors, was listed a MacBook Air.

I assumed this was a mistake. Surely no school – no local, normal, public primary school – would suggest that a child in year 4 should be in possession of a MacBook Air.

This was a kid who regularly came home from school without his lunchbox, drink bottle – even his shoes – so how could he possibly be responsible for a $1,500 piece of technology?

It wasn’t a mistake. It was the school’s new policy. Each child, from year four onwards, was required to own a MacBook Air, to be taken to and from school every day in their schoolbags.

Within six weeks I realised this was a really, really bad idea.

Yes, there was an option to rent a computer from the school, but this was advised against, because they were in short supply and the kids wouldn’t be able to take them home to do homework and assignments.

And so, assuming that the school knew best, my son went into year 4 – having just turned 9-years-old – with a shiny new MacBook Air in his school bag.

Within a few days he was going to school early and staying at school late to play games on it.

Within a few weeks he’d dropped it.

Within a month he’d left it on the playground, in a thunderstorm.

Within six weeks I realised this was a really, really bad idea.

To be honest, I suspected it was a really, really bad idea from the moment I saw the booklist. I didn’t just sit on these suspicions quietly and hope for the best.

I emailed the school, I talked to parents, I arranged meetings with the principal and the teachers – I asked everyone and anyone what the reasoning was behind this decision.

Why did they think this was a good idea? I suspected it wasn’t, but I was prepared to be proved wrong.

The answer I received – over and over and over – was that the MacBooks were necessary to equip the kids for a tech-based future.

It was implied – over and over and over – that I was something of a Luddite with my predilection for pens, paper and old-fashioned books, despite the fact that I work in digital marketing and social media.

My argument was never with the fact that kids should learn about technology. Of course they need to learn about technology! I just thought there needed to be a balance. Learn about tech at school, sure, but balance it out with real reading and real writing and real research.

I was shouted down. This was happening, I was old-fashioned, suck it up. In desperation, I wrote to the WA Education Department, who responded with a “good luck with being nuts” letter. The school knows best, the parents don’t, now get on and buy your kid a MacBook, lady.

So I did. And he lost it, almost immediately.

The next morning, after I’d spent an evening trying to climb the school fence in a thunderstorm to retrieve the missing MacBook, I went into my son’s classroom to tell the teacher that he’d have to use pen and paper that day.

It was about 10 minutes before the bell – a time that I’d always associated with the kids chatting and catching up, as grown-ups do around the water-cooler at work. But it was silent. Each kid was engrossed in a game on their MacBook, headphones on, eyes glassy and focused on the screen.

It was weird, and I felt totally unsettled.

That evening, I asked my son how often they were using their MacBooks at school. “All day,” he told me. “All day? How is that even possible?” He told me that in maths, for instance, they’d watch a YouTube video of the day’s lesson, and then do the activities online.

The teacher, meanwhile, sat at her desk, reading a book. As soon as they finished the activities, they were free to play games, as they were before school, at break times, at home time.

This was in term one of year four.

Having (miraculously) found the MacBook, I stuck with the school for a few more months. In that time, I watched how my son’s handwriting regressed into an untidy scrawl, while he became proficient in “copying and pasting” for homework and assignments.

I watched how he stopped being able to hold up his side of a normal conversation – his eyes would wander, he’d lose his thread, he’d be unable to sit still. I watched as everything began to revolve around the MacBook. Everything.

In term three, we changed schools.

Meeting the principal of the new primary school, I asked what their policy on technology was. “Oh,” she said. “It’s important, but it’s not everything.” I nearly hugged her.

A version of this originally appeared on Kidspot.