The Weakness of iPads in K-12 Education is Starting to Show Up

| Particle Debris

Apple believes that tablets are the future. And so, it's natural to push iPads for K-12 education. The idea is that these iPads are great educational devices because they're cheaper, more secure and easier to maintain than MacBooks. But what about the ability of teachers to invoke iPads for the kinds of skills training the curriculum calls for? And fit them into the budget? Signs are, it's not working thanks to smart competitors.

The ability of K-12 teachers to use iPads in the classroom depends on many things. First, it depends on how well the operation and capabilities of the iPad works with the curriculum. If the curriculum demands that students learn certain skills using certain tools that are not on the iPad, that's a problem.

Second, the teacher's expertise with the iPad is crucial. If the teacher isn't familiar enough with the technology of the iPad, through training or personal initiative, then exploiting the operational capabilities of the iPad to achieve educational goals will be a real challenge.

Finally, if the pricing and maintenance of the iPad doesn't fit in with the school's budget and infrastructure, then the school will tend to gravitate towards known, simple, and inexpensive solutions.

This could well explain why Apple is still having trouble competing with Chromebooks in education. I've mentioned this problem before, "What to Expect (and Not Expect) From Apple in 2016," and the problem isn't going away.

Here are two more articles that suggest the nature of the problem.

The emerging trouble Apple is having in education is a symptom. It's what happens when a big company is trying to grow quickly and relentlessly leaves the past behind. Sometimes, core markets can't keep up with that pace.

In addition, holes in the Apple's product line exist as it enters new markets or tries to push new products into old markets. Apple's product line has naturally gotten more complicated as it tries to plug those product holes that competitors have already discovered and are exploiting. But it's a never ending battle.

It doesn't help if Apple has specific, historical ideas about how its products should be designed and priced. The truth is, Apple is trying to sell iPads as K-12 educational devices because they're cheaper, more secure and easier to maintain than MacBooks Airs.

But given the constraints of iOS, are they really the best tools for students to learn the skills outlined in the curriculum? And can Apple balance the value of the iPads against educational budgets? Are educational apps in the App Store written with those common curriculum goals in mind? This is an ongoing challenge for Apple, and one that Apple must meet. After all, as Apple's SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller has said, " is deep in Apple’s DNA."

Now it remains to be seen if it's also in Apple's resourcefulness, willpower, competitiveness and flexibility.

Page 2: The Tech News Debris for the Week of June 6th. A new internet is being designed.

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The iPads in K-12 is a symptom of a larger problem: The quick fix.
Education has problems. Most of them relate to not enough resources. But rather than finding enough teachers with enough education, paying them enough, and upgrading schools to house the students, most politicians would rather throw some technology at it for a tiny percent of what’;s needed and be shocked, shocked I tell you when they don’t help.

The problem may or may not be the iPads, But I guarantee a class of 40 kids sitting in a “temporary classroom” in the parking lot ruled over by one teacher with no aid, few resources, and an after school activity he’s required to coach, but iPads the teacher was not trained to use and don’t fit with the curriculum from 1983 will do poorly. Worse than a class of 15 with a teacher that goes in for supplementary training annually, is paid enough to attract the best and brightest, with resources including an aide, a library, an up to date curriculum, and supplemental materials and activities without iPads or any other technology.

The fault lies not in our iPad’s Horatio, it lies in our budgets.


John, I think all of the reasons you mentioned in the article for the slowdown in tech purchasing are valid. There are a couple of others that have to do with economic factors. First, most of the ‘Baby Boom’ generation has reached senior citizen status. Their purchase habits change as careers wind down and budgets get adjusted. Perhaps the younger generations aren’t making up for those numbers. Second and probably more to the point, the current economic stagnation both in the U.S. and worldwide is having an impact on this type of purchase. The average real household income hasn’t been growing for years. Companies have cut back on full time hiring. The Affordable Health Care Act has raised health care costs for many (it did for us by a good amount.)

In short, the worldwide economic situation has more to do with the slowdown than anything else in my opinion.


We are among the Boomers who are buying less stuff. Don’t know if it’s our age or maturity, but we aren’t finding Apple’s offerings all that compelling. And we’re keeping things longer. I’m not convinced that Apple is listening to their customer base, whether Boomers or younger generations. For example,  I had asked Apple to fix iTunes on several occasions, and I’m sure not alone. Yet it took a long time for iTunes to be improved, and then only slightly. I stopped buying songs at iTS because it became so hard to find my music, and now all those songs may be lost in a few years. It seem that Apple is avidly pursuing the future, but not taking care of us now.

Paul Goodwin

Good comments geoduck. The problem isn’t the iPad. It’s the curriculum, the budgets, and cost analysis that is unrealistic.

I have no idea why a Chromebook would be better for education than an iPad. They’re cheaper, and that’s most likely 99.999% of the decision when it comes to buying one or the other. They choose quantity. I would love to see a comparison on how much wasted time there is in the classroom fussing with a Chromebook versus an iPad, and an honest assessment of the “real” support costs for both.


It’s all about standardized testing. Here in Georgia, the annual state standardized test will eventually be given completely online, and districts like mine have decided that 3rd grade through 12th grade students should have a Chromebook because of the physical keyboard. Never mind all the ways iPad can be used in a classroom (including many not possible on CB’s).

Apple is to blame for some of thIs. They were very slow in seeing the role of iPad in K-12 education and have only recently developed the tools that make for easy deployment and management of iPads in schools.

If you allow for learning how to touch type on an iPad, there is no comparison. IPads ar superior in education. Certainly the mor innovative choice. But public education has never been known for innovation.


There is still a large amount of ignorance and fear in Education. I have been pushing for iPads for my senior classes (in a UK school), only to find that a set of twenty already existed. They were not used because there is no wifi in the school and anyway the broadband is 100 Mbits for 1700 children and 200 staff. This is an issue, because the education authority, in its wisdom, has taken on Microsoft’s services: which means everything goes to external servers. Example: I wish to print to a printer ten feet from my desk - the print instruction travels four miles to an office in town and then comes back across the slooow broadband cable, which means it might take five minutes for my pages to appear.
I am refusing to be beaten, by using my own MacBook Pro to create eBooks and transfer them to each iPad by iTunes. Even a small pause for people to think, or maybe asking teachers what they need, would help prevent people thinking decent technology was annoying rubbish.
I’m still working out if I can get kids’ work off iPads by setting up my own wifi network in the classroom with an old router. Most people would not bother.


The problem for Apple in schools is simply the Google ecosystem. I purchase technology for my K-8 school. We’ve got 50 iPads (650 students) that are used mostly for creative purposes (iMovie, Spark Video, Green Screen, etc.). However, the most important app on each iPad is Google Drive. Everything is done through Drive. Each student has a Google account with unlimited storage. As soon as they pick up an iPad they log in to Drive. They take pictures and record video through Drive. They upload all of their creations to Drive so that when they pick up a different iPad the next day or go home they can download their assets and keep creating. Students log into Spark Video using their Google accounts and everything is in the cloud for them. It works very well, but at the same time, for research or for creating documents, they’d rather pick up one of the Chromebooks. They are quicker than the iPad for logging into and out of Drive.

iCloud, for simplicity sake, is just shut off on the iPads. The school purchases apps through the VPP all under the same account so managing iCloud is a pain. Apple’s approach really only works ideally with 1:1 student:device ownership. That would be a lot of money for Apple, but extremely unrealistic.

Google has a very good thing going. Google has kids in their grasp from a very young age. Unfortunately Apple is too concerned with making 40% profit on everything to bother to get in on this act. It will only hurt them more and more. To be honest, the fact that an iPad costs $500 and a Chromebook on $300 is not the biggest issue. School boards aren’t choosing Chromebooks because they’re cheaper. It comes down to the ease of moving a school of kids quickly and easily on and off devices.  Kids grab any Chromebook or iPad at any time and log on or off. (It’s just easier on the Chromebook). Google has got kids in their grasp from the time they can enter an email address and PW. Google doesn’t need a huge profit up front. They have each and every kid’s whole life to get money out of them.

In fact, if Google ever dropped Drive support for iPads, Apple would be messed even further.

Overall, Apple’s approach is simply not competitive, even though everyone likes their hardware. Right now we have more PC’s than iPads and more iPads than Chromebooks. We will only replace necessary PC’s as they become unusable, maintain or slightly increase our allotment of iPads, and will continue to purchase more and more Chromebooks. It hurts me as a Mac guy to acknowledge this, but it also makes me frustrated with Apple. I hate to admit it, but I also get a bit excited when Google adds new features and functionality that the students find useful.


Unfortunately, the truth about education is simpler than that. I’ve mentioned this before, that my wife worked in the California educational system for years, having left it very recently due to the absurd levels of corporate corruption, and in California, this means Silicon Valley. Google has bribed their way into education (along with the Gates foundation), plain and simple, nobody actually working in the field ‘chose’ Chromebooks or charter schools.

This is a big conversation not possible within the confines of a comments section, but I highly reccommend the blog of Diane Ravitch for very comprehensive and ongoing coverage of all of this. No one is looking in the right direction.



The iPad and education issue is complex and not amenable to a simple solution. There are several elements to this, many of which you have already addressed, including but not limited to:

Form factor and the requirement for a keyboard
Apple’s vs the masses’ vision for the future of computing
The debate and lack of consensus on the future of primary education in the USA and how that affects -
Choice of core curricula and its level of standardisation, which in turn affects -
Supportive apps that fulfil the requirements of those core curricula

My sense is that, given the legacy of PCs (Mac OS or Windows or Chrome - based) vs the relatively new entrant of iOS (and other tablets, for what they’re worth), there is more educational development momentum behind PC platforms of any type than there is behind iOS, not to mention the drag that the financial constraints on developing a sufficiently robust suite of educational tools for the iPad with the capacity to secure a meaningful return on investment for developers, amidst the uncertainties of adoption for that platform by education, likely create; all of these conspire to shift the risk benefit ratio for would be developers in the wrong direction, and create further resistance to iPad education sector adoption.

This is one sector in particular that, if Apple want to be a key player, Apple would need to enter from the ground up, as a participant in developing consensus, not so much in education core curricula, which should be left to the professionals in that sector, but on the tools that address them, and in turn work directly with partners in creating them for iOS, Mac OS or both. Further, Apple might do well to start where educators are, likely with laptops, and then make the case for shifting to iPads, but iPads equipped to meet consensus demands and any legal restrictions. The security features alone make a compelling case to at least consider that platform, but it would provide Apple with the opportunity to influence not only the device choice for the educational sector, but to do so with the next generation of Apple clients, as well.

Regarding the decline in social media app use, anecdotally, I just had a discussion with my daughter and one of her peers last night about their decline in use of social media, but particularly FB, which my daughter and several of her friends no longer use. One reason loomed larger than others, the bad taste leftover from cyber bullying which they experienced in late adolescence, in addition to cyber stalking and other unsavoury practices engaged in by peers. They simply had had enough. For that sector of lost clients, and I have no idea how large that fraction is amongst former or declining users, the challenge of making social media safer and more hardened against abuse, in an atmosphere of facilitating social connectedness, will be formidable. The alarming thing for that industry, however, is that these clients were lost precisely at that stage of life when tastes are being formed and set. These could prove non-recoverable.

Lou Miranda’s thoughts on the iPad Pro being hobbled by software is not new, and something that you, John, have written about more than once, however he makes a compelling, evidence-supported case, and I think he is correct. This in turn could have further implications for not simply app development, but iPad adoption and use, including in education and enterprise. Undoubtedly, Apple have a real stake in addressing this that goes beyond sales, but the future of their platform.

Finally, the issue of transportation technology is huge and too much to comment on with the remaining space, other than to say that it will transform not simply transportation methodology, but the nature of our relationship with it, including, as alluded in the piece, the question of automobile ownership, and all that that entails for jobs and the economy when that takes effect. The industry and governments, not to mention the educational sector, should be planning now for that eventuality. Not only today’s auto workers, but services around its monitoring and safety will be affected, and will require entirely new skill sets, and soberingly, perhaps fewer people.


Nothing like a Mac. A full open computer with an intuitive interface including visible file system, besides standard ports. iOS instead is a limited jailed toy. Once you try Mac, you never go back. That is why Apple should make a Mac tablet.

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