Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc., delivered a speech on Friday at an education reform conference in which he made two important points:
1. In the future (hopefully) textbooks as we know them will be done away with and will be replaced with a Wikipedia-like online information source kept current by experts around the country/world.
“I think we’d have far more current material available to our students and we’d be freeing up a tremendous amount of funds that we could buy delivery vehicles with – computers, faster Internet, things like that,” Jobs said. “And I also think we’d get some of the best minds in the country contributing.”
2. More controversially, he claimed that not being able to fire inefficient or poorly-performing members of staff is holding education back:
“What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn’t get rid of people that they thought weren’t any good?”
“Not really great ones because if you’re really smart you go, ‘I can’t win.'”
“This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.”
The problem is, of course, that education is not like business. It’s not all about measurable outputs. Whilst I agree with the sentiment that no amount of technology in the classroom will improve education by itself, I disagree that jobs in education should be performance-related. Learning’s just too messy for that. I know administrators like everything to be in tidy little boxes, but that’s just not the way the human brain learns, I’m afraid. Students do not show linear progression. And that’s part of the problem with some educational technology: linear progression is assumed when it’s the exception, not the norm.