Teach for America (TFA) is an organization that began in 1990 with the mission to educate all children regardless of race, socio-economic status, or geographic location. Since then, nearly 33,000 leaders have taught with TFA in 43 urban and rural communities. The organization operates by looking for individuals with leadership potential and gives them the tools and the opportunity to teach in low-income communities. Last year, TFA teamed up with tech-giant Apple to create a program to give their teachers another edge in the classroom: when the iPad 2 was released in March, 2011 buyers were given the option to donate their original iPads to TFA teachers. Once donated, these iPads were then refurbished and offered to over 9,000 TFA corps members in 38 states. In an email notice from Apple, the company posed this statement: “What could an iPad do for your classroom and your students? Well, we’re asking you to help us answer this question.” With this statement, Apple poses the same question that I’ve been looking to answer throughout my investigation of this project: who actually reaps the benefits?
There are a wide variety of stakeholders involved in the iPad hand-off, and each one has unique gains that accompany the project’s success:
- Donors feel like they’re doing something good, and for some it’s an excuse to buy a new iPad without that feeling of guilt that often comes with expensive purchases (especially when your first-gen iPad is working just fine).
- Apple gets great publicity, especially after being criticized earlier this year for the company’s lack of philanthropic efforts. Furthermore, the majority of the cost is placed on donors (a refurbished iPad can sell for up to $499 on ebay or amazon).
- Teach for America gives its teachers another edge in the classroom, and could use the program as an incentive to get teachers to apply (this is admittedly a very shallow incentive for an organization that bases its work on social justice, but it’s an incentive all the same).
- Teachers reap the benefits of thousands of apps for education, get the opportunity to bring technology into the classroom, and can organize class lists, lesson plans, and calendars with various iPad apps.
What bothers me most about this program is that despite seemingly good intentions, the only people that aren’t guaranteed to benefit are the students, when they should really be a top priority. With just one iPad per teacher and classes of upwards of 30 students, not everyone has access to the technology, and many teachers find the iPad to be more of a hindrance than a help. Even if teachers can find an appropriate way to distribute the iPad so that every student gets a turn, many apps for education are designed to replace curriculum rather than act as supplements. Because it’s so difficult to distribute iPads to every student, there hasn’t been much demand for apps that should be used with curriculum. Instead they are designed to be used as something extra, with fun quizzes and games, or photos and videos, so teachers have little incentive to use them during valuable classroom time.
While the iPad program may not benefit students directly, it does indirectly affect them by providing tools to help teachers organize their classrooms, calendars, and grade books, and connect with other educators. Apps for teachers like teacherpal, bubblesheet, and the ideastore, can help teachers save precious time and be more efficient in the classroom. Finally, the connectivity and sense of community that can be achieved through access to these types of tools can help new teachers (TFA teachers do not generally have an education background) feel more comfortable in the classroom.