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UK vs US: the battle of the mobile device

UK vs US: the battle of the mobile device

3rd March 2015

Featured in Education Technology Magazine, Impero’s CEO, Jonathan valentine, discusses the rise of tablet devices in UK and US education, why education monitoring software is vital to facilitate e-safety in schools, and what the modern digital classroom can expect in the future.

By Jonathan Valentine, CEO of  Impero

It wasn’t so long ago that computing in schools was restricted to a weekly one-hour ICT lesson. Pupils huddled two-to-a-PC, half-learned how to do a mail-merge, and – besides the occasional lunchtime game of Tetris – that was that.

Mobile computing has changed the game for today’s students both here in the U.K. and the U.S. Tablets and other mobile devices now play a fundamental role in wider educational initiatives such as developing basic maths and coding skills from a young age, and when monitored properly, they are helping to equip young people with the level of technical skill unseen in previous generations.

But while portable devices are fast becoming a staple in transatlantic classrooms, each education system is adopting these machines in slightly different ways. Let’s take a look.

The mobile device in education

Here in the UK, everything you’ve heard about the rise of tablets is seemingly true. Tablets for Schools (TfS) surveyed 671 schools in the primary and secondary sectors, finding that 68 percent and 69 percent respectively have adopted the devices “to some degree”. Projections indicate that by the end of 2016, over 900,000 tablets will be in use in UK schools. A BESA report notes that the iPad is currently the preferred brand for both primary (41 percent) and secondary (35 percent) education, but Android devices are gaining on them (26 percent and 34 percent respectively).

Statistics speak for themselves; tablet computing is well and truly lodged in the UK school system. For our American counterparts, however, it’s a different story. With an 85 percent market share, Apple has cornered the tablet market, but they’re far from the only game in town: Google sold US schools 715,000 Chromebook laptops to Apple’s 702,000 iPads in Q3 2014, according to IDC.

Betting against Apple is a risky proposition – after all it has just recorded its most profitable quarter ever, and it’s not impossible that the tablet computer could come to dominate U.S. classrooms. But it’s clear that Chromebooks have a greater share of educational territory, and this trend is set to continue across the pond.

So why is the Chromebook making such waves in the US – and why hasn’t it had the same impact here?

The first part is simple enough: Google’s machines are cheaper – state education budgets are still suffering from the lingering effects of the recession – and, with the majority of Chromebook data being stored on the cloud, far easier to replace. When IT equipment goes missing as regularly as it does in American and UK schools, the benefits of this become readily apparent. And not forgetting that learning on a laptop (even an atypical one) enables young pupils to develop crucial typing skills, an area where touchscreen devices fall short.

So why hasn’t the Chromebook craze taken off in the UK yet? There are two possible conclusions: either our pupils have expensive taste, or UK schools are missing a trick.

Let’s go with the latter – sooner or later, the Chromebook will be a force to be reckoned with in our classrooms. The TfS report demonstrates that funding is still a major obstacle in the way of tablet adoption in the UK, and Google’s laptop provides a low-cost alternative to Apple’s slick – but costly – machine. And let’s not forget, the few schools to adopt Chromebooks are giving them rave reviews. So for those like Russell Hobby who consider iPads to be a luxury schools can ill afford, perhaps they should consider following the Americans’ lead – and throwing their lot in with Google.

Putting the Apple vs. Google debate to one side for now, the most important factor to consider is the educational value that mobile devices bring to schools worldwide. When introduced alongside other technology (so that young people are not raised exclusively on mobile devices), they are a fantastic additional learning resource for young people, helping to equip our students for the future world of work.

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