Should All Apps Be Free for Education?

“Apps should be free”, my friend, a chief technology officer at a local school, recently told me. “If we were to get great apps for little or no money, tablet devices would transform education. They would replace computers, calculators, and even textbooks.”

I get it–I really do. I have worked for businesses that serve education since 1997, and I am a parent whose son is in the public school system. I have seen budgets slashed to the bone, extraordinary teachers fired because of lack of funding, and bakes sales conducted to raise money for playground equipment. I applaud my friend’s passion to lower the total cost of ownership for technology in schools. But in this case, he’s wrong.

All apps should not be free, and when it comes to apps for tablet devices that educators view as essential to teaching, many educators agree with me. In the Business Edition of the 2012 National Survey on Mobile Technology for K-12 Education, IESD Inc.–an independent research firm in New York–asked educators, “What is the highest price you would expect to pay per student for an app considered ESSENTIAL for student instruction?” The choices were:

  • $15 to $39.99
  • $10 to $14.99
  • $6 to $9.99
  • $4.00 to $5.99
  • $2.00 to $3.99
  • $.99 to $1.99
  • I expect all apps to be free

Surprisingly, only 15.8% of educators–whose titles included CIO, CTO, and district instructional technology director–believed that all apps should be free if the app is considered essential to teaching. (A detailed breakdown of responses to each price category is available in the Business Edition of the report from IESD. The survey also asks a similar question about apps categorized as supplemental to teaching.)

Why shouldn’t apps be free for education? Because creating and developing good content with exceptional interactivity for students is tough and it costs money. Those companies that do it well, that build content from the standards, and that agonize over the pedagogy and the interactivity, invest a lot of time and money. They key is providing the best content possible at the lowest price. That’s what great companies, those committed to improving education at affordable pricing, base their business upon.

My educator friend that wants all apps to be free, well, he is also right. He’s right because he wants technology to provide an overall, low cost of total ownership for education. He is an educator who wants value, and he aspires for technology that can be personalized, engaging, and interactive for students. And everything about that is right.

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