‘What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.” These are the words of Steve Jobs in 1996, who was railing against inequality and bureaucracy in US education.
Jobs was largely correct, of course. Education still needs great teachers, a level playing field, solid funding and the input of engaged parents. But was he underplaying the role of computers?
Edinburgh City Council, in common with thousands of local authorities throughout the world, have been spending huge sums on iPads. Our story today reveals the cost has now grown to £3.4 million since 2012. A large sum which could pay for a substantial number of additional teachers in a city where pupil:teacher ratios are growing.
It is tempting, therefore, to dismiss this spend as a waste of money. To point out that these iPads or tablets will soon be rendered obsolete by the very technology that created them.
But perhaps that is only part of the story.
Many teachers will tell you that iPads have transformed the learning environment. Going on a school visit to York Railway Museum? Use your iPad to video the highlights. Want to know who designed the Mallard and what he looked like? Check out the online quiz and compete against your schoolmates.
And it’s not just pupils who are turning to technology. Teachers are using apps to give feedback on performance in sport and dance. Language teachers can record and play back pupils’ pronunciation and let them compare their efforts with native speakers.
While there is no substitute for a teacher’s enthusiasm, this mix of methods (there is still a place for pencils and paper) can keeps lessons fresh and engage children who would otherwise become quickly bored.
The world is changing and our schools must change with it. Whether iPads have been a huge success will only be known over a longer period. But for now they provide a great new learning tool.