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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: Apple and Education and the Future

With Apple’s event this month centering on the education market and tools for the classroom, I was suddenly propelled back to early memories of using a Mac at school.

I’ve written about my high school newspaper experience before, but the memories that recently sprang to mind were of elementary school and a rather uninteresting line of beige all-in-one Macs, like the LC 520 and its offspring.

I don’t remember using the computers for much, as I think my access was only in 4th and 5th grade, with only two Macs in each classroom for student use.

(There was a third Mac that our teacher would use for work and to display content on a large CRT television strapped to the top of a cart.)

My most vivid memory from these early computing days are that of a game. Specifically, Odell Down Under, whose PC version is playable online thanks to the Internet Archive. In the game, students would start out as a tiny fish on a coral reef, and would have to grow by finding food and avoiding sharks. I don’t know how much educational value there was in it, but it sure felt more like schoolwork than everyone’s favorite, Oregon Trail.

People a little older than me have early memories of educational games too, but usually on the venerable Apple II. I missed that machine by just a few years.

I was in middle school when the iMac G3 started popping up. Our school had plenty of beige Macs in classrooms, but the computer lab had three rows of the egg-shaped machines. In high school, I was given access to a Mac for over an hour a day, and that’s when I really clicked with the platform — both OS 9 and early OS X — for the first time.

If I had been in Windows-based schools, I would have eventually met the Mac in college, but I wouldn’t have been so adept that the skills that landed me a job at my college newspaper.

I owe a ton to those early exposures to the Mac. My entire professional life has been tied to the platform. Out of that, I’ve grown two companies and a number of deep friendships. It may be silly to use your laptop’s brand as a way to self-identify and to meet others, but it is a very real phenomenon.

The world is different today than it was in the early and mid 1990s. Back then, a child might have only seen a Mac at school, as education was one of Apple’s only strongholds. Today, it’s likely their family owns at least one Apple product. Its market share may not be huge, but the Mac is a lot more mainstream than it was.

Today, Apple is still in education with the Mac and iPad, and remains committed to the market. However, Chromebooks have changed the landscape in a meaningful way. Between Google and Microsoft options, there are many kids in schools who may never come across during their school years.

Yes, Apple needs to be more competitive with Chromebooks for the good of its platforms and business, but thinking about future generations of computer buyers should be part of that equation.

That worries me a little, knowing how instrumental my early computing days ended up becoming later in life. I’m not saying that if Apple totally exited the education market tomorrow, Mac market share would tumble a few years down the road. However, I can’t help but think that introducing students to the Mac in school is only good for the platform long-term.

That is, of course, if today’s kids will just be working on iPads in the future and see my beloved platform as some sort of weird antique.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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