Apple has seen its UK share of the education market spring to 11.1 per cent, according to Gartner figures cited by Apple.

This signifies major growth - in 2003, Gartner’s figures showed Apple’s share at about 8.2 per cent.

Macworld UK spoke with Apple UK and Ireland managing director Mark Rogers to talk about Apple’s present and future plans for the market.

Make education relevant

Rogers is realistic about what work remains to be done by education and technology companies to integrate technology into the curriculum.

“It is about us providing solutions that provide the tools to let teachers teach and students learn. It’s about ensuring technology is not a creative inhibitor, but a creative enabler.”

Education professionals, he said, “need to fundamentally change the way they teach to make good use of the technology”.

There’s more to technology in education than simply making textbooks available as PDFs on Macs, he stressed: “To be honest, I don’t particularly enjoy reading a book on a computer, I like to read a book in a book”, he said.

“We want to deliver tangible solutions that teachers can utilize to teach students. That’s the biggest problem, to get through to teachers.”

Market gains reflect long-term strategic commitment

Within the education market, Apple has been engaged in a long, slow process in a strategic direction it engaged in “several years ago”, Rogers confirmed. Products such as iLife and the mobile classroom are essential.

“Government likes to talk about creativity in the classroom, what we’ve tried to do is make that understandable. So we have all sorts of things like iLIfe in education on our website, with real-life examples of how to use these tools to deliver literacy, numeracy, science - core classroom solutions.

“We have a very specific strategy to deliver these solutions. It’s not enough to say, ‘buy a Mac’, you also have to explain what you can do with it once you have one in the classroom, to make a difference.”

Apple has been engaged in this activity for some time. It ran pilot schemes exploring uses of video in the classroom with government education think tank, Becta, and “this is really beginning to gain momentum now”, Rogers said.

Music is another key area, and Apple’s efforts in education are supported by its delivery of engaging solutions such as GarageBand.

Enabling technologies

Apple’s famed ease-of-use helps students and teachers as well. “A lot of teachers are shy of bringing technology into the classroom”, he explained, and making compelling solutions that are easy to use helps teachers comprehend and apply them.

Education needs to reflect its time. “Kids today are bombarded by mobile phones, television, PlayStations. When they get to the classroom in many cases all that stuff is removed and they are given a pen and a piece of paper. That’s not a particularly engaging way to try to get someone to do something.

“But give them tools like iPhoto or iMovie, kids love that kind of stuff. they can express themselves, and communicate in a way they choose. These tools offer children that extra flexibility on how they communicate with their teachers.”

Positive impact at New Rush School

Real examples exist that illustrate how technology, well-applied, can ignite interest in learning. Rogers talked about a small East London specialist school called New Rush Hall.

“This school has maybe 25 students, all of which have been excluded from the normal school environment. Many of them just never went to school,” he explained. “We’ve utilized iBooks to allow kids to re-engage, and the school has seen a tremendous turnaround in these children.”

Engaging students who reject the system is an emerging issue in UK schools. At New Rush Hall, the sue of Macs has seen pupil attendance climb, “a first” in some cases, Rogers observed, “previously, they weren’t even coming to schools.”

These pupils aren’t just coming to school more often, they are becoming curious to learn through the relevant application of technology in the classroom.

“They are also becoming engaged in some of the tools and technologies,” he added, “they are starting to express themselves in the way they communicate.”

The forward-thinking head teacher at New Rush offers a flexible approach, with pupils encouraged to use all the available tools. They even get to take the Macs home at the weekend, “these are kids who would normally get arrested for stealing stuff,” he said. “To show that kind of confidence in the children, the results they are achieving are incredible.”

Other schools, in Southampton, Huntingdon, Ripley, the Isle of Man (where the primary education level is entirely Mac-based and managed by just two IT support staff), and many in Scotland are all experiencing success through using Apple’s powerful software tools in ways that make education relevant to children, he explained.

Institutional and intellectual challenges explained

Despite such data, many education authorities don’t yet have Macs on their approved list - making Apple’s market share gains all the more remarkable.

Another hurdle comes from the deep set belief that having one platform reduces costs, he admitted, saying: “This is absolutely not the case, it’s about having the right tool for the job. We think we have tools in iLife and the Mac that is very good for certain things.

“We are trying to encourage schools and education authorities to consider this, and use Macs when they are the right tools for the job. We’re not suggesting every PC in a school be a Mac, but recommend using them where they make sense. We’ve worked very hard for a number of years to break down some of those thoughts.”

Another myth claims that Macs are hard to network with existing PC installations. Mac users know this isn’t the case, but the perception remains in some places, Rogers said. “That’s where our network of education solutions experts plays a major role,” he said, as they show education buyers, “this stuff really integrates in their infrastructure”.

A changing environment

Testament to the hard work Apple has engaged in to ensure its product’s relevance to education isn’t ignored comes from Research Machines move to distribute Macs to schools in the UK since May 2004; and BECTA’s move earlier this year to add Apple software to its approved list.

“Research Machines provide a range of solutions their customers are looking for,” he observed. “A lot of Research Machines’ existing customers are also buying Macs to do specific tasks inside their school environments.

“It’s testimony to the fact that our marketshare is increasing that people like Research Machines decide to deliver our products as a solutions choice to their customers.”

Big deals ahead?

Apple has been involved in many successful one-to-one deals in the US, in which all teachers or all teachers and students are given Macs. Are there similar deals in the UK market?

“We have been working on several opportunities there,” Rogers confirmed. “I would hope that in the not too distant future we’ll be able to communicate something more concrete.”

In the UK market, such deals may differ from those in the UK. While some such deals are about a laptop for all, others are accessibility to new technology during school time. We’re working on lots of very exciting opportunities, and we hope in the future to have something concrete.”

He pointed to the all-Mac Ultralab NotSchool project (“a phenomenal project”, he said), and the long-standing arrangement with the Irish College of Surgeons, in which new students are given Apple laptops when they begin as examples of similar existing projects.

“We were almost the first one-to-one deal in the world with the College of Surgeons deal,” he remarked.

’Love what you do’

Apple’s UK education team is focused. They also believe in what they do, Rogers said.

“A lot of people we employ have been teachers, they have been involved in the education system, and they passionately believe that the technology can help assist the learning process of the students.

“It’s not about putting technology in their for the sake of it,” he stressed. “Not for a sales target, or to meet a government target.

“It’s about fundamentally changing the way that teachers teach and that kids learn. Using technology to deliver the best results it can,” he said.

“There is a strong belief across Apple’s education team that the solutions we bring to the table fundamentally change that, and have a very positive effect on the paedagogical elements of education.”

“Much of the bad behaviour in schools is because children are not engaged in the learning process. We aim to deliver solutions to help engage pupils,” he explained.

This interview will be continued in Macworld UK’s upcoming October issue.