One of the Guardian’s tech predictions for 2014 is an expansion of tablets for schools and the subsequent growth in educational apps.
Education, education, education
2014 feels like a big year for apps – and by extension tablets – in education.
Initiatives are already well underway around the world to get tablets into classrooms, from affordable Android devices in India to iPads in California. Yes, a growing number of children have access to them at home, but schools will be key in ensuring those that don’t aren’t left on the other side of a new digital divide.
So what will schools put on these tablets? It feels like a big moment for developers making educational apps and services to redouble their efforts, in the knowledge that there will be a market for their products. Which raises all kinds of interesting questions about how education authorities, schools and individual teachers decide what apps to use, and how they dovetail with the existing curriculum.
This trend got well under way in 2013 with news of one-tablet-per-child initiatives catching on around the world for example in Thailand. The British Council helped provide some of the apps for this. The Thai team built on a previous curriculum mapping exercise which coupled some LearnEnglish Kids content to the school curricula and packaged this content up in one of its existing apps – LearnEnglish Kids Videos.
Developing apps for this segment is interesting and represents some challenges fitting that in with the development of apps for the consumer-led mainstream app stores. The predominant business model for the app stores is in-app purchases but this does not work well for schools, even where they have a budget to purchase apps. The awkwardness of making in-app purchases on a class set of tablets is so apparent that this model just doesn’t work – the teacher would have to do the purchase once per app to get the content they want. To get around this we released a second version of LearnEnglish Kids Phonics Stories – a school edition that bundles all the content into one purchase. The change in business model from IAP (in app purchases) to Paid has other benefits too – it makes it more eligible for the Kids category in the iTunes App Store and means that we can offer it with an educational discount for schools buying in bulk.
The expansion the Guardian talk about though will probably bypass the stores. As with the bespoke build of LearnEnglish Kids Videos made in Thailand, the majority of schools will be using Android-based tablets which allows far simpler distribution. The APKs (the app file) can be easily distributed to schools or ministries of education who can then either pre-install onto the devices before distribution or add to self-hosted resource centres. The latter is being done in Turkey with a MoE-sourced resource centre: http://www.eba.gov.tr/.
One thing that will need to be addressed by schools and school supervisors is the training aspects. As with many hardware-driven initiatives, it is very easy to imagine cupboards full of dusty tablets in a few years that the teachers have long forgotten about. If no training is provided in the integration of tablets and apps into the classroom, many teachers will shy away from their use, either through scepticism of their benefits, lack of time to learn how to use them or fears of the tech itself.
It will be interesting to see how this proceeds and whether it will provide app developers with sustainable business models outside the Android/iTunes app stores where only a few educational apps seem to be making money, and even fewer outside the big stores such as US, UK etc..