Laptops will eventually become essential. Almost every business uses a computer to some capacity and this is not going to change. One of the main purposes of education is to prepare the student for the business world. Even in the simplest trade, basic computer knowledge will be in the job description.
Achedemics have increasingly become more sophisticated. When I was in middle school, we wrote essays on college rule lined paper. My children double spaced the lines in their typewritten work. I wrote my bibliographies from literature that I researched in the library. My children wrote citations with web addresses. Spell check has replaced the dictionary and thesaurus. The amount of information available today is as large as the internet.
Use of the laptop in the classroom should be progressive. There is still a need for the basic skills of reading and writing. Children need to learn the value and the problems with laptops or other computers. The amount of exposure of course should be suited to the development of the child. As the child grows and the level of learning increases, the need for laptops in the class will also increase.
Almost every business uses computers today. Obviously, the more scientific the job, the more computers are needed. Finacial institutions also require computers. What about the small business? The daycare proider who usues the computer to store and calculate the cost of the business? The auto repair shop that uses the internet to order parts? All these business have made the computer essential in their daily practices.
Historically, there have always been distractions in the classroom and the laptop is merely a new tool. Teacher will need to adapt to new ways of keeping students focused and equally, students who do not pay attention regardless for the distraction, will still face the same consequences as the generation before them. I can remember doodling or daydreaming. Is this so different from playing solitaire on a laptop? I remember passing notes and whispering to my neighbor. Is this so different from sending an instant message?
The computers have been blamed for many problems, but the truth is these problems have always been here in another form. With the internet, we are able to be more aware of what is happening, both good and bad. The question is not whether laptops are a distraction in the classroom, but how can the teachers continue to grow to keep up with the changes that are happening in the world.