Steve Jobs: ‘What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology’

With Apple’s entrance into the digital textbook space expected to take place tomorrow at its media event in New York City, a 1996 Steve Jobs interview from Wired gives us a glimpse into how the CEO viewed the potential for technology to transform education. Specifically, Jobs claimed the problems facing education were sociopolitical issues and unions, something he said “cannot be fixed with technology.” Jobs also discussed a new model for education in the interview, well over 10 years before his concept of free textbooks on iPads was revealed in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio.

Here’s an excerpt from the Wired interview:

I used to think that technology could help education. I’ve probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.

It’s a political problem. The problems are sociopolitical. The problems are unions. You plot the growth of the NEA [National Education Association] and the dropping of SAT scores, and they’re inversely proportional. The problems are unions in the schools. The problem is bureaucracy.

As Wired pointed out, with Apple’s forthcoming push into education, the bureaucracies of teacher’s unions Jobs spoke of will likely be replaced with political issues facing state curriculum boards and standards requirements. According to special education policy researcher Sherman Dorn, the GarageBand for eBooks rumor could face hurdles, as Apple must meet strict standards required for technology used by federal governments (via Wired):

“Section 508 [of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act] (accessibility) complicates text GarageBand utopian visions,” Dorn says. Section 508 mandates that all electronic and information technology used by the federal government be equally accessible to users with disabilities. “We’ve been told multimedia requires captioning, scripts, etc.,” to meet the standards set by section 508, says Dorn. “Very labor-intensive.”

In the Wired interview, Jobs goes on to discuss a new model for education that would be similar to startups in the tech industry. Jobs imagined a world where parents are given a $4,400 voucher per year to pay for school. The result, “People would get out of college and say, ‘Let’s start a school.’ You could have a track at Stanford within the MBA program on how to be the businessperson of a school.” Jobs explained:

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