Are tablets really the new face of education?

The premise that digital content could replace hard copy in classrooms is still in the experimental stage

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GN Focus

In 1996, Steve Jobs said that education’s failings could not be fixed by technology. But by 2012, his successors sounded more confident, telling a splashy gathering at the Guggenheim Museum that Apple could help bring education out of the Dark Ages.

A year after the launch of a digital textbook section in Apple’s iBooks store, education is one content market Apple has yet to transform. Not many 
titles have sold more than a few thousand copies in iBooks, publishers say.

“Publishers don’t think much has changed,” says David Worlock, a consultant. “The idea in Apple’s marketing and some other people’s minds that textbooks would be a quick win for the tablet ... proved false.”

Kathy Mickey, senior education analyst at Simba Information, says there is demand for iPads from teachers. But “I don’t think textbooks are the driver. Education applications are proliferating and publishers can’t just take their existing content and repurpose it for tablets”.

Although Apple provides no regular data about its sales to schools and universities, the number has accelerated since last January, when 1.5 million iPads were in use in educational programmes. By July, quarterly iPad sales in the education market had doubled year over year, to almost one million tablets. However, that broadly tracks the iPad’s overall growth.

When Apple launched iBooks textbooks in the UK, Australia and Canada last October, Tim Cook, the chief executive, said that 2,500 US classrooms were using iPads with iBooks software. Analysts say the iPad remains the leading tablet in schools but faces competition from Google and Samsung. Rhoda Alexander, analyst with IHS, notes that some countries with lower budgets ordered tens of thousands of $100 (about Dh367) tablets from China.

Publishers including Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, backed Apple’s launch but have said little about its impact. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says it has sold about twice as many copies of a leading history textbook to consumers as to institutions. But overall, the signs that technology is broadening the traditional market are underpinning aggressive growth forecasts. McKinsey and GSMA, a mobile operators’ association, estimated last year that the mobile education market, from devices to courses, could grow from $3.4 billion to $70 billion by 2020.

— Financial Times