Why are schools forcing parents to fork out almost €1,000 for iPads?

Opinion: Many families are under pressure to buy into poorly planned moves to swap books for devices

My social media feed over recent months is full of comments from parents reporting that they have to pay approximately €1,000 for an iPad for their child’s second level education. In most cases, they are replacing hardcopy textbooks. However, the ethos of a school should not be technology-first with pedagogy a poor second.

“Digital education” is often used as one of the arguments for a second level school moving away from hardcopy textbooks - but many families are being put under financial pressure to buy into what is  often a poorly-planned vision for their children's education. We need a national conversation on how schools arrive at the decision to go tablet-only.


In late 2019 Louth Meath Education and Training Board commissioned a report on the use of tablet devices at one of their schools: Ratoath College. I was one of the independent review group which included Cora Dunne, a retired principal, and Dr Carl Ó Dalaigh, former deputy chief inspector at the Department of Education.

The Ratoath report (2020) has been recognised by many as the first in-depth review of the use of tablet devices in Irish schools but, without parental pressure, this review would not have taken place. The report was published just as Covid hit the country and so the conversation was stopped short.


Teachers and students were relieved that they had a device to work with when the schools were forced to shut their doors. This was fine in the short-term but decisions being made now will have huge impact on young people’s education and, if deficient, will take a long time to reverse. We need to look at a long-term solution.

When asked about the most rewarding aspects of using iPads in the Ratoath report, most of the responses from students were focussed on the apparent convenience that the device afforded.

Many listed the convenient method of contacting teachers; using a learning management system for accessing class material; using PowerPoint to create a presentation; taking a photo of the board; having folders for everything so that work is organise; and sometimes being allowed to play games. However, none of these functions are exclusive to an iPad device.

Financial burden

The recommendations of the Ratoath report should be given the attention they deserve, as the financial burden can break many families. Among the main recommendations of the report were that students should no longer be required to buy an iPad.

Instead, there would be a system of blended learning with access to hardcopy books - via a book rental scheme - and shared access to devices. The recommendations included that the school purchase a trolley system with access to tablets; trolleys are a good investment for schools as they allow devices to be charged and can be moved between classrooms.

The report also recommended that high quality digital teaching materials be used where available. Scoilnet, for example, offers a wealth of materials. Prior to Covid, the resource was often overlooked or did not have the resources available for some subjects. This meant many teachers had little choice but to develop their own digital materials. Fortunately, one of the silver linings since Covid struck is the explosion of high quality digital materials being shared by the teaching community.

The report also recommended that the decision to use, or not to use, technology should remain teacher-led.


It should be noted that some Irish schools have had a very positive and successful experience of using technology.It is critical, however, that the initial roll out is managed well.

One common feature to these success stories is the extensive consultation with stakeholders where all voices have a chance to contribute and be heard.

Training is also an important aspect that cannot be overlooked as is what content is available for teachers and students. There is no point in having the most expensive device on the market if there is little or no content for some subjects. .

It is important that we continue to recognise the importance of digital education and the need for everyone in our society to have access to a full range of digital literacies.

In the Department of Education’s Framework for Junior Cycle, a core commitment is the inclusion of ICT skill development. It is a pity that when the framework was being devised that the necessity for a computer or other device was not included in the Department of Social Protection’s back to school clothing and footwear allowance.

This is a one-off, means-tested payment aimed at helping families with the extra costs of children starting school each autumn.

Another successful scheme that could be copied is the laptop scheme for third level students. Recognising the role of technology in education now, almost 17,000 Dell laptops were given to third-level students throughout Ireland as part of a scheme to facilitate online learning during the pandemic. The scheme cost €168 million and was available to both incoming first years and returning students.

There is a need for a similar uniform approach at second level to help families equip their household with the necessary technology that is now essential for school and for the successful participation in state examinations. If such a scheme were to be launched it would mean that we would not have parents under such financial pressure this autumn.

Dr Ann Marcus-Quinn is a lecturer in technical communication and instructional design at University of Limerick