Apple has really been pushing education for the past few years with the iPad. They even held a huge event earlier this year that was entirely focused on education and the arrival of interactive textbooks on the iPad. Schools are starting to buy into the craze by buying all of their students iPads for learning and work. Some would say it’s working, while the initiative still has some naysayers. One of the biggest naysayers is apparently Bill Gates.
In a recent interview with Bill Gates, The Chronicle questions the Microsoft founder’s views on education and ways to improve it. It’s a fascinating talk that’s worth a read, but there’s one really interesting part near the middle where he comments on the use of tablets in the classrooms.
The interviewer asks Gates what he thinks about the use of tablets in the classroom. With the recent announcement of the Surface, it would be safe to assume that he would praise the Microsoft tablet as the next innovation in education. It’s surprising then when he says that tablets aren’t the right fit. He feels that low-cost PCs, like the Raspberry Pi, will be driving education in the future.
Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. And it’s never going to work on a device where you don’t have a keyboard-type input. Students aren’t there just to read things. They’re actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it’s going to be more in the PC realm—it’s going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive.
Gates goes on to say that we need to fix education itself first before we start throwing tablets and PCs at students.
But the device is not the key limiting factor at this point, at least in most countries. If we ever get the curriculum to be super, super good, then the access piece, which is the most expensive part, will be challenging, requiring special policies to let people get access. The device, you’ll be able to check out of the library a portable PC, so I don’t see that as the key thing right now.
At first glance, it looks like Gates is just trying to say that the PC is relevant when Apple says we’re in a post-PC world. In a way that’s true, but I think that Gates is onto something even bigger here. Tablets are for consumption and they always will be. They’re not great for creation and a good education consists of equal parts consumption and creation.
As technology moves forward, tablets may no longer be the big thing. We may come full circle back to the PC or move on to even greater heights. The point that Gates is trying to make is that the device doesn’t matter as much as the means. While he definitely thinks a PC is better for education than an iPad, an iPad can be a powerful learning tool in the right hands. Unfortunately, the current thinking seems to be that handing a kid a tablet will automatically turn them into a star pupil without any input from the teacher themselves.
Here’s a video of the interview where Gates talks about tablets in the classroom: