THE BLOG
04/02/2016 10:28 GMT | Updated 02/02/2017 05:12 GMT

iPads in the Classroom Are the Future, But at What Cost?

Despite having passed away nearly five years ago, Steve Jobs remains the face of Apple. To all intents and purposes, he is still Apple's biggest brand ambassador. And yet, Steve Jobs didn't let his kids use iPads in the home.

We recently saw the most significant commitment from Apple to schools since the age of Tim Cook began, yet this is a direction that Jobs may not have wanted the company to take. But why? What was he so afraid of? Did he want to limit his kids' exposure to harmful online content and cyberbullying? Or was he simply afraid that, given unlimited access, his children might become addicted to tech?

Jobs certainly wasn't the first to feel this way. Whenever a groundbreaking new technology emerges, parents across the world fear the worst.

As a parent and an Apple expert, I have a few problems with this argument. Dr. Richard House claims that giving your children an iPad is like "playing Russian roulette with their development". Similarly, members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have expressed concerns that some children are arriving at nursery able to swipe a screen, but incapable of using building blocks.

But this isn't the whole story. Babies and toddlers probably have little need for an iPad, but once they reach school age, I believe they pose little to no threat. Indeed, through making education more fun, and through making teaching easier, there's an argument that iPads can actually improve a child's development.

In the classroom, iPads can open up a world of possibilities. With the right direction children can make music, paint a masterpiece (without the mess!) or simply find an answer to absolutely any question they might have about the world around them.

Moderation is key, of course. But really: to argue that children shouldn't be allowed near an iPad is a little like arguing that children shouldn't be allowed near paints, crayons, musical instruments, or books. As long as they're exercising their creativity and satisfying their innate curiosity, who cares if they're doing it through a digital interface?

Whilst Apple have traditionally stood back from answering this question and allowed third party software developers like Jamf to develop management tools for teachers, the latest announcement of iOS 9.3 is clear intent that they're no longer prepared to watch as others develop innovative solutions for a market that they created.

The new Classroom App, for example, will allow teachers to easily see whatever is on their pupils' screen, but it goes further than that. When teachers are able to digitally monitor an entire class's progress from one centralised location, they'll be able to see immediately which of their pupils are struggling, and where. As a result, nobody gets left behind. Many of these features have existing previously, but all at a cost that schools are often not able to pay.

However, perhaps the biggest clue towards Apple's shift in thinking and move away from the Jobs inflexibility towards particular markets is the introduction of Shared iPad. It seems fairly innocuous, the concept simply allows children to pick up any iPad in the classroom and log in for seamless access to their content, as if it was their own device. It's a feature that seems logical, but what's most interesting about it is that it demonstrates an element of allowance that Apple previously didn't offer to anybody.

Apple has long told schools that for them to get the very best out of their investment in iPads then they should look to providing every child an iPad device as a part of a one device per student rollout, the benefit being that every child is given the chance to mould their very own personal learning environment with which they can learn at their pace.

I can only applaud this change in direction under Tim Cook as it finally gives a nod towards those schools who simply have no choice but to share iPads. What it also indicates though is that Apple's relentlessness is slipping. This relentlessness is arguably what made them what they are today, one of the most successful companies of all time with a history full of zeitgeist-moulding innovation, and so one does have to wonder whether this 'allowance' is really a good or a bad thing longer term?

Time will tell of course, it always does, and whether you like it or not there's no denying the huge role technology plays in our lives today and will continue to play in the generations to come.