It’s easy to make the case that Apple has played an outsized role in remaking the American system of education. From the introduction of the very first Apple personal computer in 1976 all the way to today’s iPad, Apple Watch, iPhone, MacBook and whatever the company unveils next, Apple has always designed products aimed at lowering the barriers to technological proficiency. What better way to do that than to reach children, and get them accustomed to the power of computing to open doors and stimulate ideas?
In “Rewiring Education: How Can Technology Unlock Every Student’s Potential,” John D. Couch, Apple’s first vice president of education, provides an inside look at the company’s vision for the role technology has played in education, and the opportunities and obstacles that lie ahead.
One obstacle to which Couch devotes a full chapter of his book — due to become available this spring — is the challenge of access. For children to use computers and receive the full benefit from them during their school years, they need ongoing, high-quality, high-speed internet access.
“While most middle- and upper-class homes in America today have at least one computer and broadband internet access, the same is not yet true for those in our poorest communities,” Couch writes. “Thousands of students all over the country still don’t have access to adequate computers or internet, making it nearly impossible for them to succeed in today’s world, much less tomorrow’s.”
Couch provides several examples of communities using a range of programs and initiatives to provide internet access to students. Perhaps most creatively, the Coachella Valley Unified School District, serving one of the poorest and most rural areas of California, set up mobile hotspots in its school buses — at night, the drivers left the buses parked in poor neighborhoods, providing access for students to use the iPads they had been provided by the school system.
“Within a year, attendance rates went up, student motivation and engagement increased, and the graduation rate grew from 70 percent to 80 percent,” Couch writes.
As many school administrators have learned, however, simply providing internet access is not enough. Couch notes that many school districts, in their haste to get students online, didn’t think through the need for teacher training and support services. When students don’t suddenly turn their academic lives around, fingers are pointed and blame is laid. No matter how great the technology or how pressing the need, school systems need a clear understanding of the scope of the initiative and must provide both teachers and administrators the training and support they need to help students succeed, he argues.
Looking ahead, Couch believes that coding — computer programming — should be universally taught in school.
“I say this not because I expect all kids to become professional app developers … but because the process of learning to code doesn’t just benefit those interested in being programmers or engineers; it benefits everyone,” he writes.
Couch makes the case for developing kids’ coding abilities this way: First, because it is “popularly seen as being difficult to learn and understand, even learning its most basic tenets can go a long way in helping us believe in our own capabilities and potential.” As children move through the school system, with all its academic and social pressures, learning how to code can provide a big boost to their self-esteem, which gives them motivation to keep achieving.
On the practical side, learning how to code strengthens critical and computational thinking skills, while fostering a sense of creativity and autonomy. Couch compares it to teaching kids mathematics; it’s not done with the idea that all children will grow up to be mathematicians, but because it will help them think better.
“[C]oding brings together some of the most important things that digital natives need to know, including critical thinking, problem solving and creativity,” Couch writes. “Society is finally beginning to realize just how important digital fluency is.”
Given that the pace of technological change is accelerating, having more citizens with the tools and the mindset to adapt can only be a good thing, he argues.