An iPad for every kid! It sounded like a good idea in 2013, but a $US1.3 billion plan to supply Los Angeles schools with Apple tablets turned into a failure quagmire, with the school district asking for a refund.
The end of the saga: LA's Unified School System will receive a $US6.4 million settlement from education software company Pearson, in addition to $US4.2 million from Apple.
Where did it all go wrong? According to the Los Angeles Times, teachers weren't given finished versions of the iPad-integrated curriculums promised by Pearson, which made it hard to teach with the tablets:
At the time of the pact with Apple, Pearson was supposed to provide all the maths and English curriculum for the school system. The contract with Apple included a three-year licence for the Pearson curriculum that added about $US200 to the cost of each computer. During the first year of the licence, Pearson provided only sample units of curriculum, rather than a finished product. The contract allowed for the partial curriculum.
It wasn't just a curriculum issue. When the LA Unified School System first dropped out of the deal with Apple and Pearson, Gizmodo's Darren Orf pointed out that tablets weren't an educational panacea, especially with Google Chromebooks as an alternative:
But tablets aren't the PC slayers we thought they'd be, and laptops — specifically Google Chromebooks — are offering a cheap, cloud-collaborative solution for students. Even more importantly, they come with a keyboard. Feel like typing a ten-page research paper on an iPad? Yeah, me neither. Tablets are just not the best be-all-end-all solution to foist upon students, especially in such massive districts like LA, where every school faces its own unique set of challenges.
Now, just because this deal failed doesn't mean tablets have no place in the classroom. They can be a valuable learning tool, just like laptops or phones. But simply putting them in schools without developing flexible and finished curriculums and strategies isn't enough.
This is a case of how not to mix education and technology, and while it was costly and wasteful and generally embarrassing for everyone involved, it does illuminate what not to do as more schools attempt to integrate technology in classrooms.