By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— For decades, Alabama students have lugged around a backpack filled with heavy hardback textbooks. This is changing due to the Alabama Ahead Act. On Thursday the Alabama Ahead advisory board met to continue the process of moving Alabama school kids into the world of digital learning.
“I am excited about the Alabama Ahead Act and what the future holds,” said Representative Jay Love (R-Montgomery). “Everyone agrees that the learning process from the days when I was in school is over. Traditional text books I envision will be extinct over the next 10 to 15 years.”
The goal of supplying every child in the Alabama school system with an iPad or tablet-type device was the result of the legislative work of Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) and Representative Dr. Jim McClendon (R-Springville).
“This is the most important thing we can do for education at this time,” said Senator Dial. “Any money that we can put into the Alabama Ahead Act is the best investment we can make.”
According to Dial, “All the systems that have implemented this program have seen very positive results, from Piedmont to Vestavia and Baldwin County the result have been phenomenal.”
Representative Love agrees, “We have already seen some anecdotal evidence that it can lower dropout rates, as was seen in Baldwin County on the high school level. Also the response from kids has been overwhelmingly positive. Kids today are much more tech savvy than their parents and their grandparents are and we are seeing that they are learning more when the programs are implemented properly.”
Love serves as the Alabama House budget chairman and in that roll he is supportive of the Alabama Ahead Act but wants to make sure that the program is on sound fiscal footing. “I am trying to look at the cost and all the things that must be calculated into that cost,” Love said. “We have to calculate the infrastructure cost, the cost of the device, the curriculum, as well as professional development for teachers.“
Love says that he and Senator Tripp Pitman (R-Daphne) are in the process of, “evaluating all those things and the cost associated with them.”
He also says that they have to take into consideration that the state is currently spending on average $40 million a year over the last five years on text books, “It is easy to imagine using that money as part of the cost savings, but there are expenses involved and we have to make sure we understand these. We must do a full assessment of that, go into this with our eyes wide open and be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars.”
The stated goal of Alabama Ahead is “…to have every K-12 student in the State of Alabama increase their aptitude for learning, become more marketable in today’s work force, and be better prepared to succeed in secondary educational opportunities compared to other global learners.”
The vision statement of Alabama Ahead Act is, “…to transform teaching and learning through technology in Alabama.”
The tablets in a addition to having the potential to storing hundreds of books on each tablet, subject lessons will be done on the tablets, as well as homework and quizzes. Test results can be instantly reported back to the student to enhance teaching.
In the classroom a teachers tablet is linked collectively to all of her/his students, as well is individually linked giving the educator and pupil instant contact and feedback as needed.
“This is the future of education and we want to make sure that Alabama’s young people have the best opportunity to succeed. It is the right thing to do and what we must do for the future,” concluded Dial
In order to activate the act, a bond must be issued, according to Dial.
The projects proposed timeline is as follows:
2013-2014–Laying initial groundwork and getting community buying
2014–Start infrastructure build out
2015–Begin device phase in
2018–Make available to all qualified school districts
2020–End point with every student K-12 in all Alabama school districts are using the devices.