Following this article from Venture Beat of Apple’s Tim Cook visiting an Idaho school where they donated 100 millions worth of iPad to low income schools, I had this thought. Bravo. But, here is the thing. The problem is not when they get the iPad, it is what comes next. Here is my small experience.
I have two kids. One is an adult and the other is still at high school. Both went to a private high school where iPad are mandatory. Parents have to pay for them when they start going to this college. I suspect this is a pretty common scenario. At least for private schools here. iPad are used for different courses: sciences, french, english, ethics, etc. On paper this sound all good but in reality, the experience varies quite a lot from teacher to teacher. Some of them, the youngest, but not all of them, are proficient with technology in general so they know how they can use the iPad for. But others are frankly incompetent and they hate the notion of using technology like iPad in the classroom. And they can be very vocal about it. They don’t like numeric books, they don’t know about apps that can help them in doing what they do. So they despise the device.
As the children progress, as they get older, they seem to use less and less the iPad. They revert to more traditional ways of learning. Maybe this is because they find limitations of the iOS ecosystem. Or maybe they just feel the iPad doesn’t fulfill its potential as a tool in schools. What I found out over the years is how bad many educational applications are designed. Many numeric textbook are built on the concept of renting digital content. This content is wrapped within a DRM and the reading experience is awful. I can’t count how many times I heard my children saying the reading experience was too slow and unfriendly. I can say the same thing about online exercices where they have to do their homework on the device and send it to the theacher for review and to get their score. The whole thing seems messy and unfriendly.
Yes Apple is improving the experience with new versions of iOS or the Classroom app but there is so much yet to fix. I could go on and on. What about this stupid pricing tier Apple kept in place up until this year whit the famous 5 GB of free storage. It takes a few months before this thing is full and so teachers or the IT guys drop iCloud and go all in with “free” Google drive and things are even more messy. And Apple is losing.
In summary, technology is not helping as much as many think it does. Quite the contrary. Oh, and just pay yourself a surprise visit to the school during the day and look at the children during brake or during lunch, what are they doing? Staring at their screen not doing their homework but being social networks junky.
The iPad in school is not what the doctor ordered. A few years ago it was cool for schools to differentiate themself by allowing iPad in the classroom but overtime they all got the same requirements. Now the differenciation has to happen at a more higher level: at the application level, at the content level and the mixing of traditional with modern tools. This is the most difficult part in my opinion.