Students at the Lake Lehman School District in Luzerne County are about to embark on a virtual reality experience.
The cost for 10 zSpace labs, developed by a California company, was approved by the school board earlier this summer at a cost of more than $23,000 over two years.
“It’s a 3D and 4D scenario, which is built into the computer systems,” said superintendent Jim McGovern. The systems allow students to dissect images wearing special 3D glasses and using electronic pens. “The person who is at the station will be able to rotate and pull apart these images.”
The stations will be used at the elementary and high school levels.
Keeping school districts up to date with technology isn’t cheap. IDC Government Insights estimates the United States spent about $6.6 billion on education in the classroom, a figure that will likely grow as the demand increases.
But how do smaller school districts keep up with the changes?
“Everybody talks about cost,” said McGovern. “But in our mission statement, it says we have to inspire intellectual curiosity. Technology does that.”
Every student on the junior and senior high school level receives a laptop, McGovern said, and about 80 percent of their textbooks are now online.
“The money we have been saving every year on textbooks and paper paid for these labs,” he said.
Technology costs across the state are certainly a challenge, according to Steve Robinson, president of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA).
“It seems like you need to replace things much faster now because things become outdated so quickly,” he said. “In the old days, you had typewriters that were good for a while. Now, technology has to be updated constantly.”
According to PSBA, there are more than 1.7 million public school K-12 students in 500 school districts across the state. In its 2016-2017 State of Education report, 84 percent of school administrators who were surveyed found that budgeting and lack of funding were their biggest concerns. The number rises two percentage points when asked about future challenges.
“School districts overall listed technology and equipment upgrades lower as compared to pension costs, but CTCs (career technology centers) and IUs (intermediate units), listed those higher,” said Robinson. “Districts have the need for that technology, but there’s some special technology needed at CTCs and IUs that a district might need because it’s higher advanced.”
Regardless, he said, technology is very important to education.
“Another important thing to keep in mind is also using it effectively,” he said. “It’s one thing to say we bought 500 computers, but you also have to have a plan in place as to how to get the most out of those with your students.”