Apple's Steve Jobs: "Our Vision Is That We Have Just Begun"
The computers-in-the-classroom pioneer talks about problems of access and the benefits of teaching kids to create in video

Steve Jobs, the co-founder and now returned savior of Apple Computer, has been making the case that computers could improve schools almost from the time he helped launch the personal computer in the late 1970s. His leadership helped establish Apple as the No.1 supplier of computers to education. In a recent interview with Business Week's William C. Symonds, Apple's CEO reminisced about his efforts and talked about his vision of the role technology will play in schools of the future. Following are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Q: How did you get started in this area?
We at Apple sold the first computers [to schools] back in the '70s, but we were very frustrated, because at that time people didn't understand how technology could help. So we started a program called "The Kids Can't Wait" and helped author a bill in Congress [in the late '70s to give tax breaks for donations of computers to schools]. I went back to Washington for three weeks and walked the halls of Congress myself. The bill passed the House with a huge margin, but in the Senate, [former Senator] Bob Dole refused to bring it to a vote and it died.... The next year, California thought it was such a great idea that they passed their own law. Apple then gave a computer to every school [in California], and we got the software developers to do the same thing. This was the first mass deployment of computers in schools ever -- and it was very exciting.

Q: Back then, there was enormous hope that technology could transform our schools. Why hasn't that happened?
The biggest thing that's keeping it from happening is the lack of ubiquity. You can't make the investments that are required to deliver your core ideas on this amazing tool, since the kids don't have access to it. There's only one computer for every [five] kids in the average school, and if they're lucky, kids get to use a computer for one hour a day [in school]. Imagine if you could only use your books for one hour a day.

Q: Will there be a lot more computers in schools?
Will we go to a one-to-one [ratio]? Yes. Right now, that is the case in hardly any schools -- just a few that have been subsidized. I think we're probably talking about a decade from now, and it will require a reallocation of funding within the school pie.... But eventually, all the computers [in schools] will be portables, and they will be taken home by the kids.

Q: What difference would greater access to technology make?
Obviously, the computer has changed from a device of computation into a device for communication in the last few years. Now, its primary purpose is to be a tool and center for communication, whether it is distant communication over the Net or communication with other kids in your class by bringing in a video report made with iMovie [Apple's desktop video-editing software]. Our vision is that we have just begun. This is the tip of the iceberg of what we can do with these tools.

Q: What's an example of how things are changing?
Take desktop movies, which allow kids [as young] as second grade to make their own movies with a digital camcorder and an iMac, and communicate not just ideas but emotions. I've made movies on our iMac, and it's the most emotional thing I've ever done. You communicate in very subtle and, in some cases, very profound ways through what is one of the greatest mediums of our time.

There is no question this is going to become huge in the schools. Whether it is good or bad -- and I don't think it is good, myself -- a lot of [kids] don't read that much anymore. The way they interact with their culture is with visual imagery accompanied by music and sound. So to be able to create that is a very important thing. It is like writing vs. reading. We all know how to read. But very few of us know how to "write" in this medium. And what Apple is doing is giving these kids a chance to become authors in that medium and not just customers. And I think that is very important in developing their imagination, their creativity, and their ability to communicate.

Q: What will this mean for textbooks?
I think textbooks have two virtues: They have really good displays -- beautiful color -- and they are portable. And that's about it. Books are wonderful things, and I don't think they're going away. But there are better ways to teach. The best way to teach and learn is to do. But you don't do that with a textbook.

So it will be pretty amazing when all these [technology] resources are brought together. It will get kids to learn by doing. You can inspire kids [with] a lecture, but there is a big gulf between that and actually doing something and getting the experience and confidence that comes from that.

Q: What are the limits to all this?
Schools are not a business. A lot of businesspeople pontificate about education and think [business and education] are the same thing, but they are not. Education is not a business and cannot be run precisely the way business is.

[Second,] I would gladly trade all the technology in the world [to have] Aristotle as a teacher. And all the technology in the world will probably never reach to [Aristotle's level]. But since we can't all have Aristotle as a teacher, it might help us get a little closer.

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