When Apple’s iPad first burst onto the scene in 2010 it was viewed as an expensive toy or gadget – fun to play with, but not something to be taken too seriously. Fast forward nearly 2 years and tablets are directly competing with netbooks as a portable complement to home-based computers. Many parents are now seriously considering buying a tablet for their kids to help with schoolwork, and there are several pilot schemes in schools right now evaluating their use in the classroom, with early reports being very positive.
Some may see a tablet as a pricey toy for a child, but with schools starting to use this technology, and more families having access to tablets such as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Zoom, it seems inevitable that they will become more of an everyday item for school children.
So what are some of the advantages?
- The touch-screen interface means tablets are simple and intuitive to use. If you have ever seen a pre-schooler using one, you’ll know what we mean.
- There is no boot-up time – press a button and you’re ready to go within a couple of seconds.
- They are light and portable, therefore easy to carry around.
- Tablets have a long battery life and can last all day before needing a recharge (longer if they are not used heavily).
- Apps! Yes, there are lots of games and ways to waste time, but equally there are many educational apps out there, providing a new, some would say more engaging, way for children to learn.
...and the disadvantages?
- They are expensive when compared to other items on your child’s school list – this is the main argument used by those opposed to buying a tablet for their child.
- They can be expensive to replace when broken or lost. A good cover and screen protector can help prevent the most common damages.
- It can be difficult to create content on a tablet – they are not good for note taking or typing longer documents.
- The most popular tablets have no expandable memory capability – the maximum hard drive available is 64GB.
- There is no USB port.
Tablets are great for CONSUMING content, but laptops or netbooks are best for CREATING content. A critical point to consider before purchasing a tablet is whether it can handle your creative demands. A tablet is well suited to those who want to browse the web, view photos and videos, and use basic applications. However, it may be beneficial to consider a laptop if you require the ability to type documents, create images, edit videos, or complete any other creative activity.
Do I need a mobile internet contract?
If you have bought the Wi-Fi only version of a tablet, there is no need for mobile internet contract. Just login to your Wi-Fi network and you’re ready to go. If, however, you have no access to a Wi-Fi network, or you want to use your device when you’re out and about, you will need to buy a Wi-Fi + 3G tablet (which is slightly more expensive). You then have the option of taking out a Data Plan with Telstra, Vodafone or Optus.
- You can opt for a data only plan, with no tie-ins. These work in the same way as mobile phone pre-pay plans – you will buy a certain amount of data which will be available to use for a month. After this you will need to re-charge. You can choose to buy a tablet upfront from the carrier, or bring your own tablet.
- You can take out a 12 or 24 month contract with a carrier (much like a mobile phone post-paid plan). You can include a tablet with the contract, paying a set amount each month for this on top of your data costs. This may be a more cost-effective way of buying a tablet and getting the data you need, but there are cancellation fees if you need to terminate your contract early. Alternatively, you can opt for a SIM-only plan if you already have a tablet.
As with mobile phones, when choosing a contract you will need to look at what tablet is available from each carrier, along with the price and the coverage in the main areas you are going to use your tablet (e.g. at home, school, or a friend’s house). You should also assess how much data you will need each month, to ensure you are not paying over the odds for a plan or get stung with excess data fees.
What is the Educational Tax Refund?
The Educational Tax Refund (ETR) is aimed at helping parents with the cost of educating primary and secondary school children, allowing them to claim 50% of eligible education expenses up to the maximum amounts. Eligible expenses include computers, educational software, textbooks and stationary. You can claim for children who are home-schooled or doing secondary school level education at TAFE (although general TAFE courses are not eligible). Most people will claim this money back when they fill in their income tax return each year. However, if you do not need to lodge a tax return, you can still claim using an ‘Education tax refund for individuals’ form.
Can I claim for a tablet?
The good news is that the ATO has confirmed that tablets such as the iPad (and e-readers for that matter) can be treated as a laptop computer under this scheme. In addition, repair and running costs can be included – these cover things like home internet connections and peripherals such as printers.
- In order to claim this rebate you need to check your eligibility – there are several criteria which need to be addressed. Check out the ATO website to see if you qualify.
- If you have more than one child at school, you can share the expense of buying a tablet between them. This is called ‘pooling’. All the children should use the item, and you must have purchased it on a day when you met the eligibility requirements for each child.
- If the cost of the tablet exceeds your refund limit for the year, any excess can go towards your following year’s claim, as long as you are still eligible.
- Remember to keep all your receipts, as these will be needed to claim your refund.
- You cannot claim for a tablet if it is subject to another tax offset.
Further details on this tax refund program is available via the Australian Government's Education Tax Refund website.
If you decide go ahead and buy
As with any major purchase, do your research before deciding what tablet you want and where to buy it. If you are going to take out a mobile broadband contract with a company, check prices and coverage. And remember, keep your receipts somewhere safe!