Windows vs. Mac In Schools: All the Wrong Reasons

on May 1, 2013
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Maine Department of Education announced earlier this week that it was switching from Apple Macintoshes to Hewlett-Packard Windows PCs as the technology behind the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Macs had been used exclusively since the program was started by then-Governor and now Senator Angus King in 2002.

I don’t think it makes a lot of difference whether Maine uses Macs or PCs in its schools. My guess is the state will pay a little less up-front and spending a bit more over the life of the machines because Windows software tends to be somewhat more expensive to maintain. But Maine made its decision for the worst possible reason, one that leads me to wonder if they have any idea of why information technology should be in schools in the first place.

Said Gov. Paul LePage (R):

It is important that our students are using technology that they will see and use in the workplace. The laptops use an operating system that is commonly used in the workplace in Maine. These laptops will provide students with the opportunity to enhance their learning and give them experience on the same technology and software they will see in their future careers.*

As the physicist Wolfgang Pauli said, that’s not even wrong. This argument didn’t make sense 15 years ago, when the differences between Windows and   Mac OS was much greater than it is today and Macs’ market share was much lower. It makes even less at a time a user proficient in one OS can master the the with maybe an hour of training.

But it is much worse if Maine thinks the reason to have computers in schools (and, yes, they really should be thinking about tablets, too) is to teach students how to use specific pieces of hardware and software. Students’ computers should be windows into a boundless sea of information. They should be tools in science class. And students should be learning the principles of programming, not so they can all grow up to be software developers but so that they learn something of what makes today;s most important technology tick–and perhaps learn a bit about the importance of the precise, logical thinking that programming demands.

Gov. LePage seem to see PCs as little more than the modern equivalent of the rows of typewriters in classrooms for vocational typing and the purpose of computers in schools as training students to get jobs typing in word or scheduling appointments in Outlook. The four-year contract is a nice win for HP, but it may be a tragedy for Maine students.

*–The HP Probook 4400s will ship with Windows 8, making LePage’s argument even more lame ,since the new OS has been largely shunned (so far) by business and is far more different from the Windows XP and Windows 7 versions used in business than is Mac OS X. But an HP spokesman notes that Maine schools have the option of downgrading to Windows 7.