March 6, 2013 5:03 am

News Corp education arm in tablet launch

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News Corp is raising the competition with rivals as its Amplify digital education group unveils a $299 tablet designed for the classroom, featuring personalised learning technologies for students and new instructional tools for teachers.

School systems across the US are strapped for cash, but Amplify is betting that government and school authorities will continue to spend on technological upgrades.

Available in time for the 2013-2014 school year, the system is built on a 10-inch Android tablet and comes preloaded with content from traditional publishers such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, and digital education startups such as Khan Academy.

It offers special tools for teachers that allow them to note attendance, set quizzes and monitor students’ activities.

Amplify, which competes with Pearson, the education group and owner of the Financial Times, is following in the path of other tech groups such as Apple that have attempted to profit from the digitisation of education, although several efforts have struggled. Apple’s attempts to transform the digital textbook market have been slower than anticipated.

“We’ve arrived at a perfect storm moment in education that could have a major impact on the way kids learn,” said Joel Klein, chief executive of Amplify who was head of New York City schools for more than eight years.

At $299 purchased with a two-year, $99-a-year subscription to Amplify’s educational software, the price is comparable to other tablets. Mr Klein said that what set the Amplify tablet apart was that it was built specifically as a “rich, robust learning platform for the school space”. Amplify is also selling a premium tablet with a 4G data plan for $349 with a two-year, $179-a-year subscription.

Amplify’s announcement on Wednesday at the South by Southwest annual interactive festival in Austin, Texas, marks its biggest product launch since News Corp bought Wireless Generation and rebranded the digital education startup as Amplify. The group, which will be part of News Corp’s new publishing company after the media empire splits in two, is expected to report an operating loss of $180m in the 2013 fiscal year. Its revenues for 2012 were $100m.

Amplify said it welcomed further collaboration and was in talks with several textbook partners.

Its announcement comes as the adoption of education technology in the US is at a crossroads. The Department of Education recently announced a $400m programme called Race to the Top that provides grants to school districts for digital and personalised learning technologies.

Authorities say that the internet and other digital tools greatly enhance learning, but worries persist about the effect of the so-called digital divide that separates children who have access to technology from those who do not.

Across America right now, zip codes often define the quality of education that children have ... we need to turn that round

- Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade schools, Florida

More than three quarters of high school and middle school teachers in the US say students submit assignments online, but only a fifth of those teachers report that all or almost all of their students have access to the technologies they need at home, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Most teachers questioned in the report feared that digital tools were leading to a wider gulf between affluent and disadvantaged school districts. The teachers were split as to whether access to technologies created a gap among students.

“The digital divide has created a chasm between those who are truly empowered and those who aren’t,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade schools in Florida. “Across America right now, zip codes often define the quality of education that children have ... we need to turn that round.”

Mr Carvalho was speaking on Tuesday during a briefing on Comcast’s Internet Essentials programme, which provides $9.95 per month broadband service, $150 computers and digital literacy training to families with children eligible for free and reduced school lunches.

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