There was an event today. It was unique. And Steve Jobs wasn’t there.
No announcement of hardware, and all the software that was announced was free. The event is also unique because this is Apple. Apple is all about education. Maybe the iPod and the iPad distracted from it for a few years, but thanks to Steve Jobs, education is deep within Apple’s DNA.
When Steve Jobs announced the iPad 2 in March 2011, it was obvious that the device wasn’t just about being thinner, or faster, or having longer battery life:
It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.
Clayton Morris pointed out in a Tweet eariler that: “Steve Jobs was intimately involved with this project before his passing. He gave a hat tip to the textbook side of this project in the Isaacson biography.”
The tip to Isaacson was in an interview about the future of Apple in this industry:
In fact Jobs had his sights set on textbooks as the next business he wanted to transform. He believed it was an $8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction. He was also struck by the fact that many schools, for security reasons, don’t have lockers, so kids have to lug a heavy backpack around. “The iPad would solve that,” he said. His idea was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple. “The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt,” he said. “But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money.”
How could Apple have made this happen? iTunes U is a big deal, and yet, textbook publishers are still happily supporting iBooks 2. As John Gruber pointed out Apple (read:Steve Jobs) probably said to Pearson and the others: “Digital transformation of your industry is inevitable. Here’s our plan; we’d like you to come along for the ride. But if you choose not to, we won’t hesitate to leave you behind.”
Steve Jobs wanted to make an impact, not just on the technology of the education industry, but in the politics, and economics of the industry.
It’s a political problem. The problems are sociopolitical. The problems are unions. You plot the growth of the NEA [National Education Association] and the dropping of SAT scores, and they’re inversely proportional. The problems are unions in the schools. The problem is bureaucracy. – Jobs
I know the event wasn’t about Steve Jobs. Today’s announcement was about the major changes that are taking place in a very important industry.
Apple isn’t looking at the education market in terms of dollars and cents. They’re taking a bird’s-eye type view from really high, trying to find a way to raise our standards, and trying to help us (and our children) become more educated.
Today Phil Schiller said: “We’re constantly speaking to our partners in education about their challenges, and how we might be able to help…. These teachers are amazing people, and they deserve all of Apple’s help. There’s a lot to talk about that might be wrong.”
Teachers are the key to education. So often we forget that it is ‘people’ that teach, not books or technology. But Apple knows that, they want to help the teachers. Jobs explained, that in education, you need a person.
“You need a person. Especially with computers the way they are now. Computers are very reactive but they’re not proactive; they are not agents, if you will. They are very reactive. What children need is something more proactive. They need a guide. They don’t need an assistant. I think we have all the material in the world to solve this problem; it’s just being deployed in other places.” – Jobs
iTunes U is about putting people, and proactive learning systems in the hands and minds of students. The iPad is a brilliant piece of technology, but it’s the change in the way the technology is used that’s important.
Steve Jobs was the head of a company that revolutionized the personal computer, the music player, and the cellular phone. I can’t help but feel like the greatest revolution, and the culmination of these 3 products, will be that of education. While he may not have been at the event, I can’t help but feel like we should quietly be grateful that he was the leader that got us here.
Full Steve Jobs Interview: Smithsonian