Laptops are outdated, time to move on to tablets

Government's R500-million teacher laptop initiative "TLI" has collapsed. So while taxpayers are being charged R191-billion a year on education, SA cannot provide 350000 teachers with an essential tool of the trade. Some critics will say that's just lame. Laptops are compulsory for every boy at Bishops.

Teachers are paid between R150,000 and R350,000 per annum. But the Department of Basic Education must offer each teacher a fully taxable computer allowance of R130 per month. After deducting PAYE that”s R100 month. The teacher must fund the rest.

That will never work! A laptop, plus software and reasonable data bundle, plus insurance, costs no less than R500 per month. So the pre-tax subsidy is only a quarter of what is needed.

And the deal needs to be structured as an employer-provided laptop, otherwise SARS will get its paws on about 30% of the allowance.

Realistically, the TLI budget needs to be around R2.5-billion. Surely, if Treasury is contemplating increasing VAT to pay the R18-billion extra needed for the National Health Insurance, then it would be reasonable to hit smokers an extra 5c a butt and drinkers 8c a dop to pay for teachers laptops. Even Lotto could assist if they weren”t such fans of Ping-Pong and kissing competitions.

But it”s not that easy. Will teachers use online casino laptops correctly or play solitaire? A laptop is pretty dull without a projector and screen! And there is little difference between a fantastic presentation and “death by PowerPoint”.

Will teachers get mugged for laptops?

Instead of endlessly criticising the Department of Basic Education, the private sector needs to come to the party to make the TLI a reality. After all, the status quo is tantamount to the Department of Prisons requiring inmates to supply their own picks and shovels.

But perhaps this is all academic. Whether we are talking basic education or Bishops” best practice, the world is moving on from laptops. Tablets are coming into the classroom. And as computer tablets and bandwidth packages develop, they will become cheaper and more accessible to all.

We could achieve a great deal if the private sector could pull together an action group to advise the department where teaching technology will be in three to five years. The solution is closer than we think. Maybe we don”t need TLI.

After all, we really can teach on cellphones today. And there are already more cellphones than citizens in SA. Soon teachers who need a tool of the trade will just resort to the old art of confiscation or visit the lost property box.

Originally published in the Sunday Times Tax Talk column.

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