Why Apple iPads in your schools are essential learning tools

August 15, 2013 1:05 PM EDT

Today I feel like taking on a stalking horse, so here goes: Apple [AAPL] iPads in schools are not luxury items, they are essential to boosting your child's educational achievements, and if your children don't have access to these things then they will be at a disadvantage in contrast to those kids who do, and here's why:

Generation gap

I'm an adult. I've been using the Internet since 1994. I see the Internet as a completely normal part of my daily experience, but can still remember life before it and how utterly amazing I thought it was when I first came across it. I still think iPads are amazing because they offer me so many of the tools I used to enjoy from the Internet and from my first Mac. But that's not how young people see these things.

You see, young people grew up with the Internet. There are people getting proper jobs today who were born after the Internet went mainstream. They see it as an every day part of their experience. They can't imagine life without it.

When it comes to iPads (and iPhones) you have children who are just about to start at school who were born (or very young) when these devices first appeared. They don't see these devices as amazing. They see them as everyday tools they pester adults to play Angry Birds on (or Moshi Monsters or whatever else is happening and trendy among the pre-school crowd). They can't imagine life without these things.

A child who was 4-years old when the iPhone first appeared in 2007 is a ten-year old now. They don't recall the launch. They see these things as ordinary. They can't imagine life without them.

Think back to when you were a child. Perhaps you read books or listened to one of those quaint reel-to-reel tape decks, or perhaps you grew up with Napster and a PS1. That was your life. Today's kids are on Spotify and apps and don't think Macs are unusual computers and they want or own iPhones, an iPod touch or an iPad.

Even babies know how to use these things.

The new book

Then there's the apps, apps for this, apps for that, even apps to help your children learn how to talk better, such as the excellent PocketPhonics app. (Great for teaching because it can be run by a teacher in a classroom setting but is flexible enough that each child can learn at its own pace, a thing called "personalized learning".)

The publishers of PocketPhonics have conducted an extensive survey across UK schools -- and while I know things are a little different in the US, where district-wide iPad deployments are becoming ever more widespread, these results show a few interesting details -- for example, iPads outnumber Android tablets 14 to one in this sector.

"Parents that were using education apps at home were overwhelmingly in favour of using iPads in primary schools, with 88 percent of the respondents supportive of the idea. A recent Ofcom survey has highlighted the increasing use of iPad and other tablets in the home, which more than doubled in the last year. However this isn’t being reflected in schools." (Press Release received by email).

The Ofcom survey also confirms continued change in the way with which we view the Internet and Internet-connected devices:

"A further positive prediction was greater harmony between humans and technology. Participants imagined the devices we use becoming more integrated with our lives, and expected that such a symbiotic state would become a reality in the relatively near future."

The report continues:

"The always-on, almost touchable nature of the internet was predicted to become an even greater reality: most foresaw a future with total access to all information, for free, which everyone would constantly interact with, without ever disconnecting. While such predictions were met with sadness by some, who lamented the demise of more traditional means of communication, participants were broadly resigned to this vision of the future. Even participants with the lowest digital literacy recognized that they would need to move with the flow of technology, or risk being left behind or alienated."

Digital divide

That last point is the point. John Friend, Managing Director of Apps in My Pocket, said:

“Engaged parents are using apps like PocketPhonics before children even reach school to give them a head start with reading and writing. Children with less engaged, less affluent parents are missing out unless schools adopt a similar strategy."

These devices are things children are used to having around, they aren't seen as luxury items (even though they are, at least to an extent). Because they offer access to all forms of media content, children see these as perfect gateways to the content they need.

This acceptance of iPad use on the part of children means that when your children are given one of these things to learn with they are immediately engaged in the device. The best analogy I can think of is that while when I was a child I'd curl up with a book which I'd read in order to be transported to a world of different intellectual experience, today's children are equally if not more likely to curl up with a mobile device, which might be a lesson, a book, a movie, some music, a website, a game….these things are portals to possibility.

[ABOVE: The AppsInMyPocket survey suggests most parents think iPads/tablets should be used in school/pre-school.]

Tangible benefits

I don't want to appear a starry-eyed technological utopian, but the mobile solutions we have today are disrupting modern life. They are transforming business, medicine, even oil and gas exploration. Why on Earth would these devices not be transforming the way we learn?

It's beyond entertainment. I can prove this. Here's three websites that show the positive impact use of digital devices can have on the education of your child.

  1. iPads for Learning (LINK)
  2. Emerging EdTech (LINK)
  3. StarTribune (LINK)

The second link yields these statistics from the research:

  • 77% of faculty respondents felt that student achievement appeared to have risen since the introduction of the iPad
  • 73% of students and 67% of staff felt that the iPad helped students improve the quality of their work
  • 69% of students that completed the survey felt that using the iPad was motivating and that they worked better with it than without it
  • 60% of faculty thought that students were more motivated by lessons that incorporate the iPad than those that did not

In other words, use of technologies your children are familiar with which they also enjoy has the potential to improve their educational achievement.

Now, I know a lot of US schools are investing in these devices in order to reduce the cost burden of textbooks and the environmental burden of paper and, of course, in order to stimulate learning.

Some argue that these investments are a waste of money, that all children need to be taught is how to read, add up and how to be good citizens. I'd put forward the opinion that the time our children get to spend in school is limited. With this in mind I'd like that time those kids do spend in school to be of maximal positive effect.

I'd also argue that to base any nation's entire education agenda on the incredibly modest outcome of literacy, numeracy and social identity is an absolute disservice to the youth we hope to trust to look after us when we grow old. Surely it makes sense to teach our children to think and to think well, to nurture their minds so they come up with the next great idea, be that gravity, space travel, or the future iPad?

With this in mind, I rest my case. These devices have proven positive effect on the way children learn, maximizing their achievement and improving educational outcomes. These devices -- or their successors -- are going to be the future world's standard issue systems. We may see them as amazing luxury items, but in tomorrow's world these will become a fact of life.

Education, like anything else, is part perspiration and part inspiration. So perhaps we should invest in inspiration?

Oh, and if you are a Google+ user, why not join the all-new AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple.

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