There are many good reasons to question the increasing use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs in schools. BYOD brings income inequity into the classroom in a way that directly affects instruction. Families that don’t provide “up to date technology” limit students’ ability to learn. BYOD also affects the kind of learning that can be done in the classroom and creates a host of technical issues for educators. In fact Gary Stager has called BYOD the “Worst Idea of the 21st Century“.

In spite of these concerns BYOD continues to become common practice in schools. People for Education’s 2014 report found that BYOD was used in 58% of Ontario schools, with more all the time.

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From Digital Learning in Ontario Schools: The ‘new normal’ (2014)

The popularity of BYOD in schools is driven by economics rather than pedagogy. Cash strapped schools are desperate to use more technology in the classroom, but don’t have the money to pay for it. So they turn to families, asking students to use their personal devices for learning. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

Now we can add another reason to the list of reasons schools shouldn’t use BYOD. Student privacy.

Privacy, the right to be left alone, has, for a significant time, been recognized as a basic human right. However, that right is increasingly being eroded, especially with respect to online privacy. In fact, this trend has progressed to where privacy is increasingly a luxury.

Take Apple’s iPhone for example. Apple has branded themselves as both a seller of luxury electronics and the foremost protector of users digital privacy. Want to protect your privacy? You’ll need to pay top dollar for the latest iPhone.

If privacy is now a commodity, bought and sold, then privacy must be the new digital divide. As we approach a society where everyone is connected, what separates the rich from the poor is the ability to afford privacy. The devices poor families can afford are less secure, the poor more often must access the internet through less secure WiFi, and the poor often have to trade their personal data to get services.

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From “Privacy is the new ‘digital divide’”


When schools implement BYOD they require students from low-SES families to use cheap, insecure devices for educational purposes. Students use insecure devices over insecure public WiFi (libraries and coffee shops) for academic purposes. Now students must risk their personal academic data in order to learn. That’s not a choice any public school student should ever be faced with having to make.

How can the problems with BYOD be mitigated? Here’s a couple of ideas.

Many school boards have successfully implemented large scale “one to one” computing programs where all students are provided with a device. One-to-one programs are a clear statement that technology is an essential core requirement for learning, while ensuring that every student has a secure device for learning

One-to-one programs aren’t a theoretical notion. They are current practice. The first one-to-one laptop program started twenty-five years ago at Methodist Ladies’ College, an independent girls’ school in Melbourne, Australia. The best known North American example of this approach is the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) which has been providing laptops to all students in grades 7-12 since 2002. Notably, the number one stated goal of the MLTI is equity.

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Other notable examples of one-to-one computing programs are the “Dennis McCullough Initiative- Enhanced Learning Strategy” in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and the recent “Transforming Learning Everywhere” strategy of the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB.

A second way schools can minimize some of the issues with BYOD is to assist families in purchasing their own technology. This is what the Peel DSB did in 2014 as they negotiated with technology vendors, on behalf of the families they serve, to make the purchase of secure technology affordable for all students. Currently, families with students in Peel DSB schools can purchase a new $60 netbook or a new $110 desktop to support learning both in the classroom and at home.

The responsibility of schools to protect student privacy and meet the needs of students from low-income families can no longer be ignored. It’s time for schools to step up and implement technology plans that address the divergent needs of all families. It’s time we start ensuring school technology plans meet the needs of all our students, especially our most vulnerable.