In Amsterdam on 26th of march a group of entrepreneurs and educators lead by the Maurice de Hond, a long-time entrepreneur and owner of a Dutch opinion poll company by the same name, held a press conference on the future of primary education. This is remarkable for two reasons 1) a press conferences on primary education is rare. 2) if there is a press conference on primary education chances are slim that it would get mainstream media attention.
What could have prompted this unusual responds? The media connections of Maurice de Hond?, The schools manifesto (English), which focusses on the ability of the child and less on the state obligated learning objectives? Or the fact that they called it ‘the Steve Jobs school’ or as some in the media have dubbed it ‘the Ipad school’?
I will come back to this question later on, but first some more details: the first school will open its doors beginning of August 2013 (!!) and the city council of Amsterdam has already agreed to provide the location(s). Other cities are being actively approached and in the meantime young parents as well as educators who are interested can sign up on the website, http://www.o4nt.nl , which in English translates to ‘education for a new era’. Non-parents and non-educators can participate as well.
Now most of the buzz has been centred around the question if it is wise to focus our educational system on a single device and brand, the Apple evangelists are mildly sceptical but for the most part think its a good move (they are called evangelists for a reason, I guess). While most progressive educators are seriously wondering how a bunch of Apps are going to be translated into a full educational curriculum (which seems like a fair point to raise). While the majority of the educators greeted the initiative with down-right cynicism (the irony here is that secretly this group yearns to see change the most).
I find the question of the progressive educators the most important so lets start there. 1) Let me be blunt by saying ‘Ipad’s in schools are not a good idea’, by locking our educational IT environment into proprietary systems that are market driven you loose control, moreover you will also create an unhealthy dependency (=legacy issues) on a corporate company which will always succumb to corporate greed, if they haven’t done so already, no offence to Apple its simply the nature of the Beast.
2) There has been a product on the market which has existed much longer than the Ipad and has been specifically designed with primary education in mind. A product that has proven itself in the harshest educational conditions in third world countries , the name of this product is the XO and its produced by OLPC. This is a non-profit company so that limits the greed factor inherent to capitalism and it is an open-source platform,LINUX. I am not saying the XO is perfect but it’s a whole lot better suited for the task than the Ipad, since the XO is designed from the bottom-up to suit the anatomy of youngster.
Plus the new XO (see bellow) is much cheaper (+- 150 dollars but you have to buy in bulk) so the elitism of the Ipad is removed and it is the first ever table that OLPC has designed and like all XO’s the battery can be charged by a whole array of renewable sources solar, pedal as well as regular charging by USB and it can be maintained and fixed by the educators themselves with the proper training (so less service maintenance drama’s). I could go on to state the case why XO is better than the Ipad but I think you get the picture and sooner or later so will the masses.
Knowing all this, one question kept bugging me ever since the unveiling of this initiative: ‘why would an intelligent, savvy ,even shrewd, entrepreneur like Maurice de Hond make such a fuzz about an Ipad school when there clearly are better alternatives available?’
This question links back to the first question on why this initiative prompted so much response in the first place.
I belief that this is a brilliant marketing move from Maurice de Hond, I don’t belief this initiative is really focussed on the Ipad at all. Its focussed on reaching a better educational standard in Holland. In the process Maurice de Hond is using the Ipad and ‘the Steve Jobs school’ as a marketing tool. Everybody knows Steve Jobs and everybody has seen an Ipad. So instead of having to explain to people what needs to change in our educational system, which is technical and frankly rather boring. Maurice de Hond uses peoples (un)conscience idea’s about the Ipad and the Apple’s famous lifestyle marketing campaigns to propel a new educational concept into the collective conscience of the Dutch masses, its basically an inception but more crude and on a collective scale. As a result you now have soccer mom’s and yuppie dad’s talking about how they would like their children to go to a ‘the Steve jobs school’ because it will prepare them better for the technology of tomorrow.
My hypothesis is reinforced by the following: 1) Maurice de Hond owns a survey poll company so he knows with a fair amount of detail “why” we are unhappy about our educational system, moreover the recently announced budget cuts by the government are only making this unhappiness more prevalent in the collective (un)conscience. 2) He knows how politicians think, Lodewijk Asscher is in charge of education for the city of Amsterdam and he can use this initiative in order to further his political career on state, national or European level. 3) The official name of the initiative is ‘education for a new era’ no official reference is made to Apple or Steve Jobs not on this level. So the whole initiative is not locked into the Apple mechanism and if it seems that the cooperation with Apple isn’t working out they can simple drop the name, their main objective of mass inception has already been achieved by then.
I suspect that eventually the progressive educators will step into the limelight and will start discussing in forums and communities how they see the new school taking shape and probable start understating the Apple aspect. But for now the buzz of ‘the Steve Jobs school’ is necessary and at the same time a very cunning marketing strategy.