Scholarly Study of the iPad 2?

A school district in Maine will give an iPad 2 to every kindergarten student next year. I’m a big proponent of the iPad’s potential, but is the supposed return on investment real?

In the business world, yes, I believe the expense of the iPad or iPad 2 can be recouped in short order. But, whether the device is of real benefit for the education of kindergartners is another matter.

How to Gamble $200GAccording to a BusinessInsider.com article, the Auburn, Maine city school district will provide each kindergarten student and teacher with an iPad 2. The cost? Around $200,000.

Reportedly, district “hopes” the purchase will “help it raise literacy levels from 62 percent to 90 percent by 2013.” That means a relatively small school district dropped what has to be a sizeable chunk of next year’s budget on a hoped-for 28 percent increase in literacy in just over 18 months. That seems like a huge gamble.

I’ll be interested to see the research behind the decision. What? No research behind the decision? According to this post at electronista.com, the idea formed when kindergarten teacher-iPad owners who used the devices in the classroom began to see a marked improvement in students “who had previously had trouble learning the alphabet.”

That’s good news, but expecting a significant jump in literacy in a short period still seems like a lot to ask from a learning device. After all, there are entire reading programs researched, developed and written by experts that are made specifically for the task of teaching children to read. How can a mere hand-held computation machine do what those programs cannot?

It remains to be seen whether it will. But, if there’s a device that can, it’s the iPad 2.

A Little Risk-Reward Never Hurt Anyone

I’ll trust that the school district didn’t put themselves into financial danger with the iPad purchase. They have taken a risk, but taking a few minutes to watch an iPad in the hands of a five year-old will impress you. The iPad is the perfect size for a child. In a matter of seconds, the child can navigate and open their desired app. Most age-appropriate educational apps are undoubtedly made with the children in mind, and there are lots of good ones.

My own three year-old has no interest in Safari, or email, or my other “big people” apps, but instead goes directly for the “Kids” folder and her favorite two apps, Little Speller Sight Words and ABC Magic. She also likes Make Me a Princess, but the educational apps top even that one.

Auburn, Maine has taken a gamble, but not as big as it seems at first glance. Kids love the iPad, it’s as if the device was made for children, and there are truly educational and beneficial apps. Put all of that together with the fact that it costs less than a normal laptop, and you have a pretty good decision. Even bold.

The Apple Benefit 

Apple should hope the Auburn School District is correct in their assumption. If it works, the sales to school districts across the nation will skyrocket. There’s a need for an Apple-commissioned scholarly study here. Follow student progress and then tell the world! Or, de-comission the study if things don’t work out.

Personally, I think Apple’s master plan is coming along nicely.