This morning, Apple announced their new initiative to make education one of their highest priorities. This announcement has not really changed their stance on the subject of education, but the way in which they did it deserves merit.
The first thing that Apple did is to eliminate the physical books and the cutting down of trees to print those books. This alone will save Billions of dollars each year and definitely help save the forests that are so important to our survival. It will put lots of money back into the state coffers to buy equipment and to improve our schools, and perhaps even pay our teachers the money that they should get paid for educating our children.
However, in spite of the glossy apps and the wonderful tool that the iPad is, there is still one thing which is out of reach. It is the iPad itself. In Japan, the phone companies actually subsidize the iPad to a great extend with their “iPad for Everyone” campaign. This means that anyone who can make a small monthly payment can get one. Of course, this must be subsidized even further either by the states or by Apple themselves in order to put an iPad in the hands of every student within all of the states. Students should be handed an iPad the minute they walk into the schools their first year with periodic upgrades of the machines as needed, say every three or four years.
They also need to be accounted for so that if they are stolen, they can be tracked down. This means that the “Where is my iPhone” app will need to be turned on and Apple will need to get to the business of turning in the thieves to police. Their current policy of non-involvement cannot carry over when we are talking about students machines.
The other thing that must change in order for this to work is the machine specifications itself. While 64gb may be fine if you intend on doing absolutely nothing much with your machine, the minute you introduce books that could potentially take up to 2gb each means that people with a few dozen books will quickly fill their machines. I currently only have 10 movies on mine plus my music library and it is nearly plum full. This will be even more important as students implement the iTunesU app where the downloads of the lectures can take a great deal of space on the iPad in a hurry.
My recommendation would be that the iPad 3 (if that is indeed what Apple will call it) should have a minimum of 256gb and have all of the amenities of the iPhone 4S. This would allow students to not only use the machines for their studies but potentially use their iPads for their projects as well. This would especially be true if Apple comes out with a version of the iBooks Author App for the iPad.
While many folks are concentrating on the little failures of Apple such as the glare from the iPad and other such issues, the real issue is that in the long term this initiative could save states a ton of money and the students a lot of time, giving them more time to really learn what is necessary in order to be competitive in this high paced world. Failure to make the iPad accessible and specification worthy on the part of Apple would be disastrous, not only for the initiative but also for the idea of the program itself.
Notes: My own personal concerns about the problem of everyone having the same thing, the same books, the same machines smacks of the Orwellian idea of Big Brother. I guess this comes from having been educated with books such as Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, and other utopian books which teach the dangers of such orderly society. However, as long as we give the students the right to freely think about the topics they are taught, this idea of a single line of thought will never become a reality.