Technology expenses raising back to school costs

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With back-to-school in full swing this week, many parents will no doubt be checking the state of their bank account and wishing it looked a bit healthier – particularly if their kids are at one of the growing number of schools that use high-tech teaching methods. A national survey of parents by Officeworks found that parents anticipate spending an extra $620 per child for digital requirements this year. Multiply that by two or three children and it's suddenly a very financially stressful experience.

Last year the public primary school my three daughters attend introduced iPad classes. BYO iPads, that is. At this stage it's voluntary – you nominate at the end of the year whether you would like your child(ren) to be in an iPad or non-iPad class the following year – and at this stage the school is roughly 50/50. This year for the first time my two oldest girls have headed off to school with iPads minis, updated with the latest software, the various required apps, their own Gmail accounts and Apple IDs and enclosed in shock proof, drop-proof, waterproof – everything but theft-proof – cases that cost almost as much as the device itself.

I'm really hoping that my girls understood and believed me when I told them that if they lose their iPad, there will be no replacement.

Whether or not iPads in classrooms are beneficial to learning I'm not in a position to say. I do note that a pilot study conducted by the NSW Department of Education in 2012 found a number of benefits to the use of iPads in the classroom. The follow-on report to the study observed that: "(the) trial provided evidence to support claims that iPads enhance engagement and motivation, improve face-to-face and online collaboration amongst students, personalise learning and improve learning outcomes." It seems to be a view also held by many parents, with a national survey from Canstar Blue finding that 76% of parents believe that tablets are a good educational tool for children, and 43% believe that all children should have tablets at school.

On the flip side, I also note that the Officeworks survey I mentioned earlier also found that one quarter of secondary students use social media or text while listening to their teacher and more than 60% of students are multi-tasking by searching the internet when their teacher is talking. Hmmm…

Good or bad though, technology is here to stay. So how can you make it more affordable? Here are a few tips:

Check the booklist carefully. Whatever you do, make sure you buy exactly what is on the school booklist - don't waste money by buying the wrong tablet and/or software or it could be a very expensive mistake.

Get a protective cover. iPads, like iPhones, are beautifully designed. They're also remarkably fragile if dropped at just the wrong angle, it's worth investing in a really robust cover. My kids use this one which, as I said, cost almost as much as the device.

Engrave your child's name and your phone number on it. I personally label just about everything that goes to school, but with something as expensive as an iPad (or laptop, of whatever your school requires), it's worth getting their details and your phone number engraved permanently on the back, rather than simply a name tag that could be peeled off.

Check for a group insurance policy. Check whether your school has a group insurance policy that you can join. It could be a cost-effective way to protect yourself against loss, theft or breakage.

Check whether it's covered under your contents insurance. If your school doesn't have a group insurance policy (or even if they do) make sure that the iPads are covered under your contents insurance. If they are, check what the excess (the amount that you will need to pay before your insurance kicks in) is.

So that's my two cents worth – what's your view? How much do you spend on your child's technology requirements for school, and do you think it's a worthwhile cost? 

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