By the middle of last year, Apple had sold more iPads in K-12 schools than Macs.
“To do that after just five quarters is absolutely shocking. We would have never predicted this,” chief executive Tim Cook said last summer.
According to congressional records, Apple has also lobbied for education reforms that would include about $100 million in annual grants doled out by the Education Department for technology programs.
Schools can become locked into Apple because its closed software means content can only be moved easily between the company’s devices. Some publishers say educators need to be wary of relying on one firm.
“The iPad is a phenomenal device for consuming content,” said Bethlam Forsa, the global head of product development for textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The publisher released an algebra app days after the iPad was first released and is banking on a future where most books will be consumed over e-readers and tablets. “But we have to be device-agnostic because our customers will use multiple devices.”
Some experts doubt the effect of gadgets on student performance. Lawmakers have criticized federal programs that brought high-speed Internet connections and computers to technology labs in the 1990s but that were rarely used. Teachers complained that they weren’t getting technology training, and education experts questioned the need for classes in word processing and presentation skills.
To date, neither Apple nor its rivals have been able to have a transformative impact on education, a fact that frustrated Jobs, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography.
Other tech executives have also touted the importance of technology in learning. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, for instance, has warned that the nation risks falling behind countries such as Singapore and China, which have thrown their efforts behind education in computer science, math and engineering.
Jobs told Isaacson: “The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt. . . . But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent the whole process and save money.”