Tablets coming into the classroom

Imagine a modern day David and Goliath story. But instead of slinging a rock at a giant competitor, Jose Espejo created his own tablet and launched it into a world where Apple has sold more 170 million iPads.

The Venezuelan immigrant and CEO of Quatro Solutions believes he has discovered a niche where his eBolt tablet can penetrate one pocket of the market: education.
“Everyone knows about the iPad, but only some schools in the nation were getting iPads,” said Espejo, 34, of Miami. “The math didn’t add up to me.”

Quatro Solutions’ 10-inch device, which runs the Android 4.2 operating system and has 16 gigabytes of memory, is similar to others, but with a price lower than its competitors.
Last year, the Seminole County school district, near Orlando, brought the devices into four of its elementary schools. The cost of 100 tablets: $30,000, or $300 apiece. The package includes a Bluetooth wireless key-board, high-performance ear buds, a leather case and cables for the classroom. For a similar tablet by Samsung, the cost is about $100 more.

The eBolt has also been used in schools in Miami-Dade County, including a charter school in Little Havana, and in Broward County.
“After we did teacher training, we did student training,” said Minnie Cardona, a languages coordinator for the Seminole school district. “What’s important to us is how it’s going to impact the students’ learning.”

The schools have been using the eBolt tablets since January.

“We can give different assignments to all the students,” said Maritza Aviles, a teacher of English for speak-ers of other languages, who has been using the tablet. “If they are not doing well in math, we can direct them to use one of the apps in math to help them out in whatever skills they are not doing well in.”

Parent Leticia Roblero says the tablet motivates her 10-year-old daughter, Karrissa, to do better.

“Since they started the program, I’ve noticed that her math skills, which were a little bit behind, are better. Her reading has improved 50 percent more than what it was,” said Roblero, 44. “Before the tablet, she would get really frustrated. She wouldn’t comprehend the way I would explain it to her or the way the teacher did. We’d have to go over it 10 to 15 times.”

Mariset Coroas’ fifth grade class at Alpha Charter School of Excellence in Little Havana has found the eBolt useful for downloading textbooks.

“Our reading series, which is the book that we use, it’s only online. The only way to access it is through the Internet,” said Coroas, one of the first teachers at the school to use the tablets. Coroas, 24, puts the book on her classroom’s Promethean board — an interactive whiteboard — and her students can simultaneously see the same pages from their eBolts.

Technology experts say it is only a matter of time until tablets become ubiquitous in schools.

“No doubt it will be a staple just like textbooks are today,” said Jose Estevez, help desk manager for Sym-bits, a Coral Gables information technology support company.
But getting a small company to supply tablets for thousands of students in Miami-Dade schools is not an easy task.

Sylvia Diaz, assistant superintendent of innovation and school choice for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, says she is hesitant to introduce non-standard technology from smaller companies like Quatro Solutions.

“We had a lot of requirements that companies had to be able to meet in order for us to consider them,” said Diaz. “It’s one thing to buy 50 of them, but it’s another thing to buy thousands of them when they don’t have a history in the marketplace.”

Instead, Miami-Dade Schools will spend about $23 million purchasing 100,000 tablets from HP and Lenovo Windows 8 tablets as part of the digital transformation of the school district. By August, the students should have the devices, the school district has said.

Espejo acknowledges the complexities of working with school districts.

“It’s been very challenging because every school is run a little bit different. We are working in different spaces, the public schools, the charter schools, the private schools,” he said.
For now, Quatro is focusing on bringing the tablets to charter schools.

“Charter schools are a little bit more independent in the way they are able to make their decisions,” he said. “The principal and their board of trustees make their decision and then they implement it.”

The company also is working with Seminole County to roll out a mobile program for students learning Eng-lish as a second language.

“There are not enough tools that are useful in the classroom, and that’s where the story of the eBolt begins,” Espejo said.