Is our children learning? The Apple effect

How children are educated, enabled and empowered to understand what's around helps determine the future of any nation. Investment in education is investment in the seeds of future prosperity, and technology is playing an active part in this, with Apple [AAPL] solutions leading the way.

[ABOVE: Here's a Kickstarter project I like the look of: Markup for iPad could become a useful tool for teachers. While I note the project's a few dollars short of its goal, I should also say I've not taken an in-depth look at it, and have no connection whatsoever with the developer.]

Education in the DNA

The relationship between Apple and the education markets is as old as the company itself. The connection is proven by the company's news this week that iTunes U downloads now number over a billion. The impact of Apple's effect on how children learn has been proven in numerous studies, with iMacs, iPods and now iPads and iPhones significantly improving children's interest in what they are doing in school.

The theory is pretty simple:

  • Send your child to a boring school with boring teachers and boring lessons and don't be too surprised to see your child get bored and learn little.
  • Send your child to an interesting school that's kitted out with the equipment they are already used to using t home; staffed by teachers with an interest in positive use of these tools and lessons crafted for the digital age, and your child will very likely demonstrate better learning outcomes, including qualifications, social interaction, team working and attendance.

These statements have been proved several times. I tend to think back to the BECTA-sponsored UK studies of 2002 which helped prove the link between switched-on tech and switched-on learning.

As film director Lord David Puttnam, said at that time: "Moving images are the key drivers of the information society. However, we have failed to capitalize on digital technologies in education. There is a "disconnect" between the lives of pupils inside schools and the lives of the students outside.

"Why shouldn't kids learn French from kids in France via video conferencing? Our education systems must respond to changes in technology, and I believe it will revolutionize the way information is taught and learnt."

The Internet impact

Education is not immune to the impact of technology. Enterprises (barring Yahoo!) are embracing BYOD and remote working practices; whole industries are being transformed; education is no different. We're moving fast to an age of Post-PC in schools.

This doesn't mean no PCs in schools at all, of course, but likely means children will be doing the majority of their studies on iPads, iPhones or competing devices from other manufacturers.

(Though bear in mind that Apple's devices are very much preferred by young people, meaning if you buy your son an Android tablet in a class full of iPad users, don't be too surprised if he doesn't look too thrilled.)

This evolution of the Post-PC school is clearly evidenced within the latest Pew Internet report, "How Teachers Are Using Technology At Home and In Their Classrooms".

This report shares a huge quantity of data capturing some of the changes taking place within the sector as it attempts to deliver educational attainment to the new generations of 'digital natives' -- not least news that older teachers are finding it hardest to adjust to new technologies in the classroom.

[ABOVE: A second Kickstarter project (funded) seeks to create free apps to help teach environmental literacy in Californian schools.]

Beware the digital divide

The other important take away within the research report is the steady evolution of a large gap between digital haves and have-nots -- addressing this gap is precisely why initiatives to deploy iPads within schools make sense, as they enable a level playing field of learning for kids despite what income bracket their parents may be placed. The Pew Internet survey of 2,462 teachers fed back this statement: "They report that there are striking differences in the role of technology in wealthier school districts compared with poorer school districts."

A selection of stats which suggest the impact of Post-PC technologies and the Internet on learning (verbatim, from the report):

  • 92% of teachers say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching
  • 69% say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with other teachers
  • 67% say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents
  • 57% say it has had such an impact on enabling their interaction with students
  • 75% say the internet and other digital tools have added new demands to their lives, agreeing with the statement that these tools have a “major impact” by increasing the range of content and skills about which they must be knowledgeable. 
  • 41% report a “major impact” by requiring more work on their part to be an effective teacher. 

The Post-PC school is coming

That's the Internet, but mobile device access the Internet and teachers report growing use of these among their pupils. 73 percent of teachers say they and their students use their mobile phones in the classroom or to complete assignments. The teachers also note that 43 percent of children use tablet computers in the classroom or to complete assignments (mainly iPads, I imagine).

The danger is the marked difference in technology use between low income and well-provided schools. There's a huge difference in the use of tech by kids from less well-heeled families. This is a danger because the impact on educational attainment is such that this digital divide could threaten available future opportunity for children.

The report also proves more use of search engines and/or Wikipedia to complete assignments.

Technology can't solve every educational challenge. Teachers overall reject the opinion that all that's required is that educators throw technology at problems. Most teachers already find time to be a big limitation on what they can achieve with these post-PC solutions. In order to be effective, technology needs to be introduced appropriately.

[ABOVE: A third project looks to empower other elements of the connected classroom, this time to teach "mindfulness" to children.]

Managed disruption

"There was fairly widespread agreement in focus groups that new technologies should be incorporated into classrooms and schools, as long as they enhance the lesson plan and encourage learning.  Some teachers expressed concern that technology is sometimes “forced upon them” for the sake of “keeping up” rather than for actually improving learning."

This is an opinion which matches what Apple's strategy within the education sector has been for at least a decade. Apple understands that throwing technology at a problem isn't enough: you need to throw solutions at a problem. These solutions might be based on technology, but also include help and advice in its deployment; lesson plans; marking and assignment and more. The intention is to plan technology deployment before making an investment in the new gadgets, not after they have been acquired.

In Europe, Apple runs a network of Apple Distinguished Educators and 150 European training centers. "We teach teachers not just about Apple solutions, but also how to create content that's suitable for digital learning," explained Apple's then director of EMEA education markets, Herve Marchet.

"If you want to play in the education market, you need to be a solutions provider. You aren't just bringing in the machine, you must also offer appropriate software, content and models for best practice in content creation. We even offer lesson plans," he said. -

Apple has been making substantial inroads in education markets in recent years. Last year, for example, it sold 4.5 million iPads directly into educational institutions in the US, with another 3.5 million sold directly outside the US.

Apple continues to explore education markets worldwide, most recently meeting with the president of Turkey to discuss a $4.5 billion iPad education plan, which may involve deployment of 15 million iPads to Turkish schoolchildren.

In the UK the Essa Academy school has deployed 2,000 Apple devices for use by staff and students. This school is deeply switched-on to what switches on the digital natives it is trying to teach. Abdul Chohan, the director, said:

"The academy's goal is to ensure every pupil has access to Twenty-First century learning resources and to move away from buying printed text books. Imagine being in an environment where a student can use a 'textbook' that's completely personalized for them, flick digital pages over, watch video, look at content, listen to audio, interact with it and then capture their own learning -- this is what we are hoping to achieve. Our vision means that technology will become embedded as the foundation upon which all teaching and learning takes place."

The future of education, like that of the enterprise, is the evolution of these technologies to provide logically-crafted and appropriate engaging educational experiences that can be accessed anywhere. The classroom may remain the main hub for teaching, but learning becomes a 24/7 experience. With, or without, the PC.

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.

Note: To understand the appalling English used in the headline to this report, please check here.

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