Apple’s New iBook Author and iBooks 2: Closing or Widening the Digital Divide?

Today, Apple unveiled the latest apps for iPads that hope to revolutionize the textbook. One app, iBook Author, will allow authors to create and publish textbooks on an iPad, the other app, iBooks 2, will allow students to access their textbook on their iPad, as well as take notes, view 3D models, videos, and images, make flashcards, and look up words in the dictionary, according to The Huffington Post.

“One thing we hear louder than anything else is student engagement, inspiring kids to want to discover and learn,” said Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller in the article. ” That’s why we get excited to see student reactions in the classroom.”  But which classrooms?  Upper middle class? Private schools?  IB and AP students?

Every teacher and principal has the same dream as Schiller: they want their students engaged in the class, to feel inspired by knowledge, and to find intrinsic motivation to discover and learn. However, technology still isn’t accessible to most students in low-income families. Getting students hooked on interactive textbooks is a noble cause, but these tools will largely be falling into the laps of children in middle-class and affluent families. Will Apple’s new apps make learning more accessible, or will it create a larger wedge in the digital divide? Who are the social entrepreneurs who can be the equivalent here in the U.S. for what John Wood has done around the world through his Room to Read program, teaching millions of illiterate people to read?

Technology is wonderful opportunity for all, but it is not a panacea.

In a time where people have to be reminded to “unplug” so they don’t get “information overload,” there are still families who can’t relate or participate  — many who have children who go to schools that can’t afford breakfast or lunch for every student, much less textbooks. Many parents struggle with basic literacy themselves and they would improve their life and their learning capacity if they were able to have an iPad. Anyone can take a free college course from MIT, learn Algebra on YouTube, or take free typing lessons on a game site if they have access.

Information on the Internet is infinite and cheap and plenty of low-income students in India, Thailand and other developing countries are leveraging this access. What will it take to get iPads, Kindles, Nooks or computers with Internet access in the hands of all of our students? If Steve Jobs’ legacy and fortune could tackle how to make that happen, we could begin to close the digital divide by having access as a common denominator for all students in K-12. Let’s hope that this might be an election goal from one or both parties in the coming months.


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