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Apple to stage New York education event next week

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Apple has sent out media invitations to a launch event in New York on January 19 that will announce a new initiative aimed at the education sector.

Cupertino is being typically mum about the content, saying only that it is an “education event” and will kick off at 10am Eastern time at the city’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The invite features a chalk outline of the New York’s famous skyline dominated by an Apple logo.

Speculation is rife as to the topic. Last year Apple held a similar event in February, and used it to introduce The Daily, with Rupert Murdoch. The results of that escapade are ongoing, but other publishers have not been so quick to join Apple’s ventures into the written word.

There have been numerous reports that Apple is planning an extension of the iBook into the education market. The company is hugely popular among students and textbooks are a relatively lucrative sector – and one that has so far resisted much in the way of digitization. Such a move would also help block pesky kids jailbreaking their devices as well.

One possible clue could come from the Walter Isaacson biography of Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs. In a discussion about Rupert Murdoch’s new digital curriculum service, Jobs said that the industry was ripe for the plucking, believing it to be worth around $8bn.

However, he was annoyed by the current system of state classification of textbooks. Some US states order textbooks as a block, giving huge buying power to large markets like California and Texas. The content of these textbooks have to be cleared by local state boards of education, and some – like Texas – have made this an ideological issue.

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the majority conservative faction on the Texas Board of Education and a dentist by trade, The New York Times reports. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

McLeroy and his supporters successfully made over 100 changes to the requirements for textbooks to be sold in the state, including that they cover the works of Milton Freidman and Friedrich von Hayek, that the word “capitalism” is replaced with “free-enterprise system” and that they include “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society welfare legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation which covers sexual discrimination in education.

Jobs’ idea was to hire great textbook writers to come up with interactive digital titles and publish them on iPads, which would also reduce the elephantine load of books students have to carry around. Jobs said he had had meetings with major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple on the project.

“The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt,” Jobs said. “But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money.”

Even allowing for Apple’s major cash pile it’s unlikely that the announcement will match Jobs’ vision – Tim Cook is one of the most business-minded managers out there - but maybe the company might be going part of the way with a self-publishing module that could be used for the purpose. ®

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