Apple wants to make a difference in areas that matter, and education certainly qualifies. Today's announcement of a new textbook publishing scheme, that provides rich textbook content for grade schoolers using iPads, is a good step toward bringing the education system into the digital age. There is one thing that may get in the way of the Apple goal: kids.
I have been fortunate to raise my kids in a progressive school district with funding to apply to new initiatives. These have included numerous attempts to modernize education through the mandatory use of laptops by students. While not all textbooks used at the time were available in digital form, some of the most important texts were provided on the laptop. According to the educators behind these early programs, the objective was not only to provide access to digital textbooks but to train kids in the use of laptops and programs to prepare them for adulthood.
As part of my interest in covering mobile technology, I made friends with several administrators handling these programs at the schools, which included both middle schools and high schools. Listening to the people behind the laptops in grade schools was certainly eye-opening, and lead me to wonder how feasible Apple's iPads in schools initiative can really be.
What these program administrators discovered was how destructive school kids can be on a regular basis. The stories they told about how thoroughly destroyed many of these laptops were over the course of a school year, in what would be considered top schools, were mind-boggling. Several years of data found that few, if any, laptops survived the entire school year without extensive physical damage through poor handling by the kids. It was so bad that after the first couple of years the budget had to be changed to reflect the inability to use a single laptop in more than one school year.
While service plans were in place to replace broken laptops, the cost of such plans skyrocketed to reflect the fact that most of the devices were being routinely destroyed by rough handling. These weren't shoddy laptops to begin with, they were specifically chosen to withstand a beating. I know the laptops my own kids were assigned were like tanks, but that didn't matter. Even by working with my kids to teach them proper handling techniques, every one of their laptops showed signs of damage by year's end.
Having seen how little chance these fairly rugged laptops had in the hands of teenagers, I can't imagine iPads being able to handle the abuse. They are simply too thin and fragile to handle the rigors of thee school day. I can easily imagine horrible cracking sounds emanating from backpacks as things are thrown on top of the tablets.
There are a lot of factors that will determine if Apple's new program can make a difference, but none so questionable in my mind as the durability of the iPad. I can't imagine them lasting longer than the laptops used in other programs, and that at lower cost than the pricey iPad. Kids are rough, and the iPad is not.