Apple's 'School Box' plan to innovate education

By Jonny Evans

Apple's [AAPL] plan to bring better educational tools to children worldwide could include a solar-powered iPad rig equipped with pico projectors and more, except the solution doesn't come from Apple -- but does use iPads.

**UPDATE: Apple PR have informed me that "School Box aka School in a Box isn't Apple's". Here's a link to School in a Box.

[ABOVE: Apple's message to education. These tools could dramatically boost educational possibilities in the developing world.]

Introducing School Box

In Zimbabwe, government education ministers are working together with an iPad-based solutions provider to deliver a solar-powered education system, consisting of a solar powered device, micro projectors and a bunch of iPads.

Dubbed the 'School Box', Zimbabwe's Education, Sport, Arts and Culture minister David Coltart recently claimed traveled to Paris to meet with Apple to discuss the solution.

"Great meeting with Apple today in Paris – unveiled a fascinating new "School Box" which will take iPads to the most remote rural schools – using solar power and micro projectors we will be able to bring computerized teaching aids to the poorest schools. I hope we will get the first pilot programs started early next year.

"I am very excited that Zimbabwe is collaborating with Apple in this ground breaking use of technology to advance education in the most remote schools. If we can get it to work in Zimbabwe I am sure it will spread to poor schools throughout Africa – and beyond," wrote Zimbabwe's minister on his Facebook page.

Of course, School in a box is not an Apple product -- but offers intimations of what's on the way...


[ABOVE: Apple's MacBook-based mobile classroom got a lot of attention in its time. The iPod, iPod touch and iPad maintain the tradition.]

Teach the kids to change the world

Given that broadband access in some parts of the world is inevitably going to be based on mobile signals, these iPads are likely to connect to the Internet via 3G. I can imagine the  School Box may also act as a femtocell device, enabling a single broadband connection to be shared between students.

The vision could one day perhaps see textbooks made available to connected client devices from an education-focused iCloud/iBookstore. Add translation tools to the mix and solutions such as this bring the widest possible educational opportunity to the developing world.

There's such potential here.

Apple's iPad is already cracking the education market because the devices are relatively cheap, kids like them, and the apps and media content available to iPads help them excel in education, as elsewhere.

Apple's DNA -- education

The move to bring a post-PC product into the education market is a natural extension to what Apple's been involved with for years.

Way back in 2001 (on news Apple now led the US education market), Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, said: "Education is in our DNA at Apple."

Walter Isaacson's recently-published Jobs biography confirms Apple's co-founder saw textbooks as the next major industry he wanted to transform, delivering textbooks custom-made for the iPad in an attempt to cut education and publisher costs.

Jobs thought the US education sector would see budgets slashed for a decade. 


 The media tablet

Analyst firm, Gartner wrote: "Where the One Laptop Per Child [OLPC] and mini-notebook fell short in delivering true computer-aided curriculum, the media tablet can deliver if schools build them into a larger ecosystem emerging around digital textbooks."

The 'School box' project could make a big difference to education on a global basis. Solar power will reduce electricity costs, electronic textbooks could slash school budgets and use of Apple kit -- well, look no further than this recent Harris Interactive poll which tells us:

"Apple brands are ranked highest among Americans, ages 13-24, in their respective categories. Apple Computers, iPads, and iPhones are the highest ranked Computers, Tablets, and Mobile Phones brands."

Ask almost any educator and they'll confirm that giving children technologies they already relate to learn with will inevitably boost attainment and results.

Happy kids learn faster

"Apple's technology gives students access to things that excite and interest them," said Brit School headteacher Nick Williams. It's also about the impact of the technology - give pupils technology they don't like, they'll learn little, "when they go to the Mac they won't come off", he added.

In developing countries, provision of such sophisticated education solutions could make a huge difference in the future intellectual -- and by inference financial -- wealth of nations.

Given the failure of the OLPC and netbook attempts at providing low budget yet sophisticated learning equipment to developing countries, the industry track record isn't that great.

Success will come down to hitting market with the right approach.

[ABOVE: Andy Losik, teacher from Hamilton, Michigan shows some of his third graders learning iMovie for the iPad 2 on the fly.]

Apple's approach -- join the dots

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.

A Digital Britain report in 2009: "In today's schools, young people are increasingly being prepared for a Digital Britain by using digital technology in the classroom, from "mashing up" archive film in history and citizenship lessons using iMovie to teaching science with digital cameras and animation software."

The three 'R's

There's always hardcore critics who insist school budgets are better spent on teaching children to read and write than on technology.

Fine, but that luddite argument's limited. Think about it. An iPad can be used to teach reading and writing and then also used in learning maths, science, biochemistry and more.

An iPad is something your child can actually carry. It is a gateway to a rich ecosystem of available content (iTunes U, textbooks, the input of Apple's education teams, iBooks and much more) from a company which has been deeply involved in the education markets since inception. All packed inside a device children actually like to use.

In the UK, Rye College last week became Apple's newest accredited regional training centre. The college will deliver training on the curriculum-enhancing opportunities of using mobile learning devices such as iPods and iPads, a range of apps along with award winning multimedia software within the iLife suite.

To mark its new status, Apple education mentor Ben Stanley, spent the day with students using iPads to create a short video clip.

The reaction? "Liam Barry, a Year 10 student, commented, "This has been the best school day I have ever had."

Now, with School Box, children in the developing world may get to enjoy school days like that. Is that such a bad thing? Let me know in comments below.

**UPDATE: Since the above tale appeared, Apple PR have informed me that "School Box aka School in a Box isn't Apple's". Here's a link to School in a Box

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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