As most have heard by now, Apple’s next ambitious goal is to take over the textbook industry. But in case you missed yesterday’s big announcement, it’s pretty self-explanatory: Apple plans to provide a platform for publishers to create a more interactive approach to teaching by embedding relevant videos, pictures, and study tools such as note-taking and virtual flash cards right on your iPad. The benefits are great. Kids can carry all their books on one, portable device, and information will always remain current (thanks to updatable content). And because Apple’s agreement with publishers includes a clause that caps off all books at a price of $14.99, digital versions of the textbooks will be significantly cheaper than hard copies.
Like many of the tech giant’s other prior endeavors, the idea has vast potential. But I don’t think the potential can be realized within the public school system and its associated market. On the surface it seems like a win. Schools will have new means of teaching while Apple, under the guise of noble efforts, invades another market and gains a new loyal consumer.
Yes, those things are great, but what about the burden of cost on the parents for iPads for their child or multiple children? And what about the dollars the already underfunded schools have to spend to train their teachers to teach with the devices, if they are open and able to using the virtual textbook system at all? And the actual students are a whole different ballgame. Accountability will be damn near impossible to maintain. How will schools deal with kids who lose or get their iPads stolen? The devices aren’t cheap and they’re sure to fall victim to sticky fingers. And there will always be that one kid who routinely forgets to charge his. How can teachers make sure their students aren’t playing Angry Birds when they’re supposed to be learning about cell reproduction? Also, will newer books be supported on older iPads or will it be mandatory to upgrade every couple years?
Clearly, there’s a lot that needs to be answered before this technology can take hold. Currently, many private schools already take advantage of this technology, but it’s easier to adopt new technology in that particular setting because all the financial responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the parents, not tax dollars. But public education is a very different beast and hopefully Apple has a plan to solve those problems (and probably many more). But if not, then this idea will likely remain a drop in the bucket of an otherwise crippled school system. A bucket that dips into the well of America’s future, but a bucket that’s also unable to come back up to nourish the thirsty minds of the present.