Samsung is keen on the education market because it supplies a very wide range of technology products including Windows laptops and all-in-one PCs, mobile phones and tablets; interactive whiteboards, monitors and TV screens; CCTV systems, printers, air-conditioning units, underfloor heating systems, and much else besides. Its technology range also includes keyboard docks, charging stations, and the 40-inch multi-touch table computer originally launched as the Microsoft (now PixelSense) Surface.
Almost all Samsung's products are used in business, including in-house training, and in higher education colleges. However, it's making a push into the schools market by developing software that enables many of its devices to work together. Smart Education is being launched in the UK this month, and the company ran hands-on demos of its Smart Classroom Solution (sic) for teachers who attended last week's BETT educational technology exhibition at London's ExCel.
Samsung said it was piloting Smart School in schools in 24 countries to "fine-tune our software." The most advanced projects include schools in its home city of Seoul, South Korea, in Sydney, Australia, and in Memphis, in the United States. (Last year, Samsung USA made a YouTube video about its school.) It has now started a pilot in the UK but says it is not ready to name the school.
This is just the start of Samsung's "big vision for 2020."
In its Smart School pilot projects, Samsung has been supplying teachers and some whole classes with their own personal devices. These include the multi-touch Series 7 Slate running Windows 7, and Galaxy Tab or Galaxy Note tablets running Google's Android. The Slate also works with a digital pen, as do Samsung's Note devices.
BC Cho, from Samsung's headquarters in Seoul, said "pen is a real differentiator for us," and that when devices have handwriting support, "note-taking is way easier."
The school software suite includes Samsung's Interactive Management Solution (IMS), a mobile Learning Management System (m-LMS), and a Student Information System. The overall aim is to provide efficiently managed, technology-based personalised learning (and sell lots of Samsung devices).
The Smart Classroom Solution "is a complete digital education package consisting of Samsung tablets, a server and software", says Samsung. Using this Android-based system, teachers can watch their students' screens remotely and lock them if necessary. They can also display students' screens on an interactive whiteboard. (Windows 8 client support will be added later.)
Although Samsung is not ready to talk about its pilot school in the UK, it already has other partnerships. One is with Birmingham Metropolitan College, which has over 40,000 students -- mostly adults -- spread across a number of sites. The college's Mustafa Shevket said it had invested more than £10,000 in Samsung equipment (including a Samsung Surface) for a learning centre in Kidderminster. "All the staff have been issued with tablets, and there are eBoards in all the curriculum areas," he told me.
Samsung will not be providing content for Smart Schools, but it has partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which Tim Cannon, HMH's executive vice president for strategy and alliances, described as "the world's leading educational content company."
Cannon said: "It's only through technology that we're going to change education".
The goal was "a personalised educational experience" so that students could follow their own courses and sit customised examinations. Education would be student-centric instead of teacher-centric.
"Android and Windows 8 are going to be the prime operating systems in use," said Cannon, but content should be "operating system independent, with a minimum form factor." (Phones have small screens, most Android tablets in education have 7-inch screens, and Windows machines typically have 10-inch to 30-inch screens.)
Of Samsung, Cannon said: "We've been working together closely for 18 months. You ain't seen nothing yet… That's an Americanism."
Graham Long, vice president of Samsung UK and Ireland, said: "We've been in the education market for a very long time, and we bring great products to market. But increasingly what you will hear from us is: it's about solutions."
It remains to be seen whether UK schools will adopt the system. However, pricing deals, and reducing the number of different suppliers, could make it attractive. Taking a global approach will certainly give Samsung huge economies of scale, and an advantage in dealing with large American partners such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Microsoft.
Samsung wouldn't put any financial numbers on its ambitions, but it aims to get more than 20 percent of the global education market by 2015.
Schools normally turn to local suppliers for localised equipment and content, but that approach is threatened by globalisation. British schools no longer use mostly British computers (originally from Acorn, Amstrad, Sinclair and Research Machines), and the internet is now providing a global market for online courses. It seems that purely local UK suppliers can look forward to being squeezed...