Apple’s new iPad based textbooks for rich, white kids only?

With Apple’s education event wrapped up, and the announcements unveiled, we’re left asking ourselves one thing: who are these textbooks for exactly?

You see, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that there are actually two school systems in the Westernized world. First, there are the rich white kid schools where textbooks and other learning resources aren’t a problem. These schools are usually private and carry huge tuition costs. Then, there are the rest of the schools, the schools where most of us got our educations, the public school system. One can afford iPads for all of its students; the other cannot.

There’s no doubt that modern textbooks can be a huge educational step forward for most kids these days, but what happens at the schools where there isn’t enough budget space for print textbooks, let alone an iPad for every student? And, like many before me have asked, are schools going to be forced to have students pay for textbooks every single year, along with an iPad, just to get a basic non-private, public education? It kind of looks like it. That model may work in colleges and universities the world over, but it’s a new approach for primary grade schools.

How is Apple going to address that? How are schools going to turn to parents and ask them to buy each of their kids an iPad? How many students in impoverished schools just saw the gap between their education and middle American students’ education widen with one announcement from Apple?

We’re obviously being a little melodramatic here — there’s no doubt about it — but these are certainly major questions that need answering. Up until this point a textbook was both the tool for learning and the curriculum, and now the iPad is the tool for learning and the textbook is the curriculum. The cost of a public school education just got more expensive. Given the twelve years most of us attend primary schools, are we actually going to have to buy an iPad every two to three years just to keep up with the advancements in textbook technology? A book, if treated properly, can service students year after year after year. Right now, an iPad has a shelf life of about 3 to 4 years. Are digital textbooks providing enough utility to warrant the cost of a new iPad three times throughout early education years? I’m not certain.

We need to know how Apple, the publishers, and the schools will be working together to really change the education system, and we didn’t get even a hint of an explanation during the keynote today.

We don’t expect Apple to lay out that kind of information in a product announcement keynote, but we’re going to be listening intently over the next couple of weeks to see if anything changes on that front. We’re really hoping something does break, because these digital textbooks are a huge step forward. But this whole thing is going to be for naught if we don’t get iPads into students’ hands.

Apple’s excellent at having long term plans that don’t seem to make sense to the general public until all parts are revealed. This could be one of those situations. Maybe cheaper iPads are coming. Maybe a new iPad educational program is moments from being announced. Who knows really. But what I do know is that as it stands right now, something doesn’t add up. Right now it’s just a bunch of maybes, and maybes aren’t good enough when it comes to the future of our education system.

Update: Since most people seem to be missing the point (increasing the divide between the haves and have-nots in education), and focusing on the headline, I thought I’d add a link here to help illustrate the point. This post wasn’t about race, but since a few people tried to make it about that, here’s a quote for you that illustrates how race is also part of the equation:

From Unequal Opportunity: Race an Education:

[quote]Even within urban school districts, schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students receive fewer instructional resources than others. And tracking systems exacerbate these inequalities by segregating many low-income and minority students within schools. In combination, these policies leave minority students with fewer and lower-quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers; significantly larger class sizes; less qualified and experienced teachers; and less access to high-quality curriculum. Many schools serving low-income and minority students do not even offer the math and science courses needed for college, and they provide lower-quality teaching in the classes they do offer. It all adds up.[/quote]

Image Credit: CGS Schools

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