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The good and bad sides of Apple's classroom hardware initiative

It's still too early to say how helpful iPads for students really are.
Lester Cohen/Getty Images

In late 2014, Apple announced that it would donate iPads, Macs and Apple TVs to 114 "underserved" schools as a way of getting more technology in the hands of those who don't have as much of a chance to use it. With the program well underway, The Wall Street Journal published a report on the good and bad sides thus far. While some studies have shown that schools in which students that heavily use technology actually do worse than students who do so moderately, a big part of that problem comes from not having curriculum developed that the hardware can enhance. In the case of Apple's trial, the company is providing an employee to spend 17 days per year at each school to help build lesson plans that take advantage of the company's hardware.

While it's too early to tell with hard data how the initiative is fairing, teachers the WSJ spoke with in Yuma, Arizona have positive feelings thus far. Fourth-grade teacher Blanca Rivera has overcome her skepticism to the value of using hardware in the classroom, saying that it has enhanced and motivated her students. She also said that the sessions with Apple's guide have definitely been helpful.

Naturally, there are downsides as well. The students can't currently take their iPads home, meaning they aren't useful for homework. Even if the students were allowed to bring the tablets out of the classroom, many of them don't have internet connections at home. And the teachers have concerns about what'll happen when the three-year program ends and the district can't afford to buy hardware itself. Apple's Eddie Cue believes that if the program proves to be valuable, finding continued funding won't be difficult. "You have to solve the problem you have today and not worry about the problem you're going to have tomorrow," he said to the WSJ.

Of course, Apple has non-philanthropic motivations for making these donations. Recent estimates shows that more than half of the hardware being purchased for schools at this point are relatively inexpensive Google Chromebooks rather than Apple devices. The company has never been about pure marketshare, but there's undoubtably a benefit to getting its hardware in the hands of as many students as possible to help convert them to future Apple products down the line.

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