British teachers have welcomed Apple into their classrooms with enthusiasm, not because its tech programme promises to revolutionise classrooms, but simply because of a dirth of credible computing course material.
Apple’s Everyone Can Code educational programme was launched in the US last year. The course is now available in 70 schools and colleges across Europe, including 16 universities, colleges, and secondary schools in the UK, where schools and teachers are said to be "desperate" for good computing course material, according to a report in technology magazine, Wired.
As part of the scheme Apple provides a free iBook textbook on app development with Swift, Apple's own coding language, alongside guides for teachers. It's essentially a textbook on making iOS apps, but one that requires an iPad to read.
According to Bill Mitchell, director of public affairs at the British Computer Society (BCS), the body that represents people working in IT, the textbook has been gratefully received by British teachers desperate for better computing materials. The official new computing curriculum remains "patchy" and "fragile”, he said, and "help from any quarter is welcomed, even with limited hardware".
And hardware in UK schools is limited:
"The new Apple programme is wonderful, but I'm somewhat questioning how many schools will find it particularly relevant for them. There's an awful lot of UK schools that don't actually have any Apple technology, so they'll find it challenging to adopt this."
Of the 16 schools who have taken up the course so far in the UK, the majority were already using Apple products. Most British schools however aren't running iPads as their main hardware, some primary schools do but a fair few have a set of iPads and Macs kicking around "as part of the mix", says Katy Potts, computing and e-safety lead for Children's Services at Islington Council in London.
The other benefit to Apple is spreading the take-up of Swift, Apple's nascent development language. Tim Cook told The Guardian that he saw coding as a smarter choice than mastering a second-language, but Apple's own Swift isn't widely adopted within British schools. According to a Royal Society report, it's taught in only 1% of them, with teachers instead favouring more open languages such as Python and Scratch.
Apple says that Swift lessons include computing core concepts and have been designed to help students get their GCSE or A level qualifications.
"We've been teaching these coding games and tools really badly for years," says Kate Farrell, a computing science teacher at a trio of schools in Edinburgh and former head of Computing for Schools in Scotland.
"Educators can work better with industry to make sure we get the research-based pedagogy of how do we teach this better rather than just jump straight to code."
Programmes such as Apple's iOS making course aren't perfect, but they're better than nothing. "Right now, we're still in a situation where computing in schools is fragile, it's patchy, its future is uncertain," Mitchell says.
"All the help we can get is just phenomenal. The fact that these companies are going into schools and helping is something we should be grateful for."