Despite Hurdles, iPads are Helping Some Students and Educators with Assistance from Apple Executives

BY Evan Selleck

Published 13 May 2016

iPads in Yuma school

iPads, or iPad devices, weren’t seeing the most favorable of attention when it comes to education in the last couple of years.

But that could start to be a different story, with one successful story stacked atop another. An in-depth look at Apple’s new education-focused initiatives show that while the iPad wasn’t a solid foundation for the Los Angeles Unified School District, it could be a perfect fit in other schools across the United States.

In Yuma, Arizona, the H.L. Suverkrup Elementary has been injected with iPads in a major way, including the fourth-grade class where all 31 students have been given access to iPads. The class’s teacher, Blanca Rivera, was skeptical at first, believing that the iPads was “just for games,” but eight months into the program and she says she’s seen a considerable difference. The students use the iPads to accomplish tasks of all kinds, including producing videos on the water cycle, put together digital books about fractions, and create presentations about angles.

This initiative, according to the report, is one from Apple and the Obama administration, all with a focus on leveling the playing field between poor and rich students. It encompasses 114 schools across the United States, eight of which are located in Arizona. It means that each student within the program’s net is provided access to an iPad while at school, the teachers are provided with an iPad and MacBook computer, and classrooms are outfitted with Apple TV units. Apple is apparently also helping to build out school Wi-Fi in some locations, and requires an Apple employee to visit each school within the program at least 17 days of the year.

Apple committed $100 million to this program back in 2014. But, beyond that, Apple’s focus on education is one that has plenty of competition from the likes of Google (owned by Alphabet) with its Chromebook lineup. Chrome managed to account for 51 percent of tablet and computer purchases in the United States in the latter half of 2015, while Apple accounted for only 24% within the same period of time.

There are hurdles, however. Many students do not have access to the internet when they get home, and the students are not able to bring the iPads home from school. However, Yuma’s schools are sponsored by Apple’s Eddy Cue, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services:

“An Apple executive sponsors each school, and helps clear roadblocks. In Yuma, that is Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services. Mr. Cue, the son of Cuban immigrants, said he felt a connection to students there because most are Hispanic and don’t speak English at home.”

And with that sponsorship, Cue says that he’s working to remove those hurdles for students and educators, starting with a grant the school’s administration applied for from AT&T, which would help connect students and teachers while away from school. Cue said that he “knows someone” at AT&T (it’s the wireless carrier’s CEO, Randall Stephenson), and said he might be able to help.

The program hasn’t been a success only in Yuma, though. In the Coachella Unified School District, after voters approved of a $42 million bond measure that supplied its schools with iPads for its 20,000 students back in 2013, the administrators in that district say the tablets helped boost graduation rates up to 82% in 2015, up from 65% in 2011. Apple is not directly funding that program, however, iPads are still the tablets being used, and a win for Apple in this regard is still recognized.

The biggest worry for many at this point is what happens when the program comes to an end, and the district is unable to afford buying new tablets.

““That’s been on the front of my mind since the day I wrote the grant proposal,” said Trina Siegfried, who oversees the program.”

However, Cue says that if the program is successful, it will be easier to find future funding, saying, ““You have to solve the problem you have today and not worry about the problem you’re going to have tomorrow.”

These stories are a stark turnaround from Apple’s failed attempts at deploying iPads and other Apple products in classrooms in the Los Angeles Unified School District. That program officially came to an end in December of 2014, and Apple agreed to pay the LAUSD $4.2 million due to the failed initiative. That program was put to an end for a variety of reasons, with an investigation from the FBI happening at the same time, including the fact that the district planned on buying the tablets but never intended on using them.

How do you feel about computers and tablets being used in schools?

[via The Wall Street Journal]