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Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 10.17.04
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Rethinking those school laptops, now that my daughter has one

STANSTEAD, QC | In my other life as a cynical editorial writer, I had plenty to say about the Eastern Townships School Board's laptop program.

It's all a bit of a blur now but I may have used phrases like "financial catastrophe," "abomination," and "less thought put into this than Michael Jackson's parenting decisions."

I might have been a bit harsh.

Now that my eldest daughter has an ETSB laptop of her own, all I can say is "neato."

I still have concerns about the program, which goes by the moniker "Eastern Townships School Board Dennis McCullough Initiative Enhanced Learning Strategy" or ETSBDMIELS for short. I wonder about costs, effectiveness, the devil's handiwork, and all that.

But I have temporarily set aside those concerns because the laptop is just so shiny and cute. I just want to hug its little hard drive.

Emily received her Apple iBook at Alexander Galt a couple of weeks ago along with her fellow Level 2 students. The session included a brief demonstration where I was immediately impressed by the school's wireless connection speed and how quickly the students figured out one of the iBook's most important applications: playing music.

That's not the reason for the laptop program, of course. The iBooks are important tools for conducting classroom research, taking notes, and having something to gloat about with friends in the French system.

Emily was actually in the French system until this year. She was forced to switch schools after Coll`ge des Ursulines closed here in Stanstead.

We settled on the English public school system (aka "The Return of the Traitors") for a number of reasons. The laptop initiative wasn't at the top of those reasons but it was a consideration, falling under the category "Cool Free Stuff."

The "free" part I'm still not 100 percent convinced of. The ETSB website assures me that it won't cost parents a cent but never says definitively where the money will come from. In fact many of the website's FAQs (frequently asked questions) feature FAAs (fairly ambiguous answers).

Last week, The Record reported that ETSB plans a "massive" fundraising campaign to pay for the program. Uh, I dunno but don't these types of fundraising campaigns usually hit upů parents?

This is like those chocolate bar sales to raise funds for school trips so that parents don't have to pay and then you end up purchasing $35 worth of bars from your own children who couldn't be bothered to sell any themselves, not to mention from the neighborhood kids who read the "sucker" sign above your front door.

(Oops, I fear I may have unleashed a flurry of laptop-related letters to the editor. Quick: diversionary tactic. "The Anglican Bishop of Quebec is a boogerhead." Whew, that ought to distract them.)

However, I put these misgivings aside. I also put aside my defensiveness upon reading on the website about certain media providing misleading information about the initiative (you can find it under the website heading "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire").

I then found useful information on how to care for the Apple iBook and configure it for Internet use at home. There is even a 1-800 help-line for Windows users suffering right-click withdrawal.

It's wonderful to have an Apple in the house again. They've improved so much since the last time I worked with one. There are some new, very important features, like the way windows swoosh closed as if they're being sucked into a black hole. Then there are the gently soothing screen-savers featuring undulating nature scenes. Why, it's just like a life-insurance commercial.

I've already seen some of the benefits of the laptop. For instance, Emily no longer needs to write her school schedule in a book. Now she writes it on the computer. Nope, you can't stop progress.

I'm a kinder, gentler writer now, far more open-minded that I was back in the black-or-white days of editorial writing. I remain optimistic that the ETSBDMIELS will have tremendous benefits for each and every student.

What, do you really think I'm going to say something bad about the system that's grading my daughter?

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