One of Labour’s early campaign pledges is to provide £300 million worth of laptops to provide computers to 270,000 families.
Given the state of the public finances, it hardly seems appropriate to make new unfunded expenses. There are around 30 million income tax payers, so this scheme averages £10 per head. As for the educational merit of this scheme, a lack of laptops is not at the root of our falling standards. Rather than just chucking more of our money at the declining system, when education is already well funded, the government should instead attempt to reform the education sector to empower the users (parents and children), and deliver value for money.
Doing basic computation shows that this scheme costs over £1100 per laptop. This is a ludicrous expense for laptops. Private philanthropy through the one laptop per child project since 2007 has been delivering £62 ($100) laptops for children in developing countries and a new and perfectly capable windows laptop, as I myself use, can easily be acquired in the UK for under 300£. In the profit making private sector the Alienware M15X, the “universe’s most powerful 15″ gaming laptop”, starts at £1158. Perhaps the government wishes to equip children for state of the art gaming? No doubt the government provided computers will be much less potent than those that can be purchased at the same cost in the private sector and like most government IT projects, this one will not only start with ludicrously high figures, but end horrendously over budget.
However, even if one supported the principle of the government spending more rather than tackling the deficit, and even if one believe that laptops were the best way to improve education (rather than transforming the sector, allowing money to be directed by the choices of parents and pupils), this scheme is terribly flawed. Why must government administer it? Instead, if the government gave families a £300 laptop voucher, this would not only vastly reduce costs but also allow parents to decide where to spend the voucher, which brand to buy, and what type of laptop they desire.
The government’s education policy is in desperate need of a reformat and reboot, but before doing so, this shallow vote seeking pledge should be sent to the recycling bin.