With his frothy coffee in his hand, Joseph looked at his tablet screen: 121 new notifications. He sipped his coffee and looked back at the screen. He noticed the subject line for a number of them contained the same name: George Bailey. With the deftness of a man at one with his tablet, he dabbed his finger at one of these notifications and read:
– Dear Goople, I owe my whole career to you and your products. But my friend, George, needs your help.
– George is a good guy. Please give him some tech support.
– Please, Goople. Something’s the matter with Mr. Bailey.
Joseph quickly opened up his messenger window and prodded at the name ‘Franklin’ in his contacts list. He got an instant response:
– Hello, Joseph. Trouble?
– Looks like we’ll have to send someone out – a lot of people are asking for help for a man named George Bailey.
– George Bailey. Yes, tonight’s his crucial night. You’re right, we’ll have to send someone out immediately. Whose turn is it?
– That’s why I messaged you, sir. It’s Clarence’s time again.
– Oh, yes: Clarence. He hasn’t got his education sales bonus yet, has he? We’ve passed him right along.
– Because, you know, sir, he’s got the I.Q. of a rabbit.
– Yes, but he’s got the faith of a child – simple. Joseph, send for Clarence.
Joseph called up his contacts list again and tapped on the name ‘Clarence’.
– You need me, sir?
– Yes, Clarence. A teacher in a school needs our help.
– Splendid! Does he need an upgrade on his entire school’s hardware?
– No, it’s bad news. He’s become cynical about edtech. At exactly ten-forty-five PM tonight, that man will be seriously thinking about throwing away God’s greatest gift.
– Oh dear, dear! His… class one-to-one ePads?
– Yes. You have one hour. You will spend it getting acquainted with George Bailey.
– Sir… if I accomplish this mission – I mean – might I perhaps win my education sales bonus? I’ve been waiting for over two years now, sir – people are beginning to talk.
– Clarence, you do a good job with George Bailey, and you’ll get your bonus.
– Oh, thank you, sir. Thank you. I’m on my way…
Just a short walk from Bedford Falls Primary School, George stood by the railing at the centre of Pottersville Bridge. The snow was falling hard. He held a box of ePads over the edge.
“Wait! Don’t do it, George!” came a cry from behind. George turned around to see a man in a crisp suit standing there.
“What? How do you know my name?” George replied.
“Oh, I know all about you. I’ve downloaded all of your personal details and history from the eCloud.”
“Who are you, then?”
“Clarence Odbody, Goople junior sales team.”
“Junior sales team? Why only junior?”
“I haven’t got my education sales bonus yet. I’ve got to earn it. And you’ll help me, won’t you?”
“Sure, sure. How?” said George, humouring Clarence.
“By letting me help you.”
“Only one way you can help me. You can give me a hand chucking this lot in the river. I won’t be needing them anymore.”
“Now look, you mustn’t talk like that. I won’t get my bonus with that attitude. You just don’t know everything that your ePads have done. If it hadn’t been for them…”
“Yeah, if it hadn’t been for them, the pupils would be a lot better off. Deeper learning, less screen time, better handwriting…” said George, clearly annoyed with Clarence. “Look, little fellow, go off and haunt somebody else, will you?”
“No, you don’t understand. I’ve got my job…”
“Aw, shut up, will you.”
Clarence looked at the floor. “Hmmm, this isn’t going to be so easy.” he muttered to himself. He thought for a moment, then looked up at George, and said, “So you still think destroying your ePads would make everyone feel happier, eh? Your headteacher spent a lot of money on them…”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said George dejectedly. “I guess you’re right. I suppose it would have been better if I’d never bought them at all.”
“What’d you say?” said Clarence, a little taken aback.
“I said I wish I’d never bought those ePads.”
“Oh you mustn’t say things like that. You…” A smile crept across Clarence’s face. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That’s an idea. Yeah, that’ll do it. All right, you’ve got your wish: you’ve never bought them.”
“What did you say?”
“Well, not literally. I mean, I can’t actually change the past. But I can show you a class in the school down the road who haven’t got ePads and show you what they are doing… you know – show you what it would be like if you’d never bought them for your class?”
“Come with me…”
Presently, they found themselves outside the gates of St. Martini’s, a primary school in the neighbouring borough.
“Come on in,” said Clarence. “They are expecting us. I have an appointment to sell them… I mean, show them some of Goople’s products.”
Clarence was right – they had been expected. The receptionist guided them to the classroom of Miss Nickbert, a Year 6 teacher.
“Hi! Come in!” said Miss Nickbert. “Let me show you what these pupils have been doing. We have quite a few pupils who, when they started here, were a bit further behind than we’d have liked them to be…”
Clarence smiled and muttered to himself, “This’ll be good.”
“…so we’ve really focused on reading lots of great books, writing lots and practising things like times tables.”
“Great!” said Clarence. “We have apps that can help with those. I’m sure with ePads, you would be able to get those pupils up to speed in no time. Here, let me show you a video clip of a school that made great progress using…”
“Oh, we don’t need ePads,” said Miss Nickbert. “Our pupils have made great progress by focusing on reading, writing and practice. Here, let me show you our class data and examples of what they can do. Or you could ask them yourself?”
“Yes, yes, but an ePad means that…” tried Clarence.
“I understand that pupils can make progress using ePads,” Miss Nickbert broke in. “But our pupils made progress without using them. A class set of ePads would cost us… what… twelve thousand pounds?”
“Well, we could do a very good deal on…”
“Here, look at this stunning work from Sophia.” Miss Nickbert picked up an exercise book from the table of the child working away next to them. “What does that tell you about whether we need to spend money on ePads or not?”
Clarence tried to ignore the book that had been thrust under his nose, but George elbowed his way in front and took the book from Miss Nickbert.
“This is brilliant!” said George. “And they are able to do this without the use of one-to-one devices?”
“Yes. I’m sure pupils with one-to-one devices make good progress too,” replied Miss Nickbert. “But if pupils can make progress without them, it kind of makes you wonder why you’d spend thousands of pounds on them, don’t you think?”
“Yes, quite.” said George.
“But without ePads,” tried Clarence, “you leave an awful hole in these kids lives, George. You are widening the digital divide. And we can help you change that by making you a Goople Certified Distinguished Facilitator…”
“I’ve heard things like this,” said George. “You’ve got me in some kind of spell, or something. Well, I’m going to get out of it. I know how, too.”
“But… but…” Clarence was clasping at straws now. “But… they’ve got a wonderful battery life…”
“Enough, Clarence! Please… go. I don’t want your ePads. I want to… I want to teach again!”
Clarence stared at George, his mouth agape. He looked across to Miss Nickbert, then back to George. He slowly closed his mouth and, with a look of uncertainty, turned and made his way out of Miss Nickbert’s classroom.
“I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing?” said Miss Nickbert, looking at George.
“Not at all,” replied George. “He was looking for evidence that one-to-one devices make the difference. I don’t think any evidence exists. You just saved me years of upgrade and app costs. Thank you.” He smiled at Miss Nickbert. “Of course, he’ll lose his education bonus now, though. Shame – he was a nice fellow, really.” George looked down at Sophia and handed her back her book. “And thank you, young lady. This work is excellent. And all done without an ePad.”
“Thank you, sir,” replied Sophia. “Don’t worry about that man. He’s always coming in here trying to make us use ePads. Miss says, ‘For every school that aren’t ePad owners, another Goople employee loses his bonus.”
“Hmm.” George thought. “That’s right. That’s right.”