Critics fear that the free price of the app is offset by its limited availability to low-income students
Apple has developed a new app designed to help middle-school students learn to code by playing a game.
The app, which Apple is releasing for free, is called Swift Playgrounds. According to The New York Times (NYT), it "introduces basic computer programming concepts, like sequencing logic, by asking students to use word commands to move cartoon avatars through a fanciful, animated world."
Unlike many other apps designed to teach children how to code, Swift Playgrounds uses a professional programming language known as Swift, which Apple introduced in 2014.
"When you learn to code with Swift Playgrounds, you are learning the same language used by professional developers," said Brian Croll, vice president of product marketing at Apple. "It's easy to take the next step and learn to write a real app."
Silicon Valley is campaigning for coding to be taught in public schools. Executives at tech companies believe that this would provide students with the marketable job skills necessary to offset socio-economic differences in their backgrounds. Back in January, President Obama said that he was requesting that Congress set aside four billion dollars in the budget for an initiative dedicated to computer science in public schools.
"We believe every student should have the opportunity to code," said Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Apple is not the only company trying to corner the education market. Chromebooks, inexpensive laptops running the Google Chrome operating system, is currently edging out both Apple and Microsoft Windows products in public schools.
Critics claim that there is an essential flaw in Apple's plan to teach coding with Swift. The app requires an iPad, Apple's tablet computer that may be too expensive for some schools and families.
"How much of the motivation is for selling of product, and what does that do for schools that cannot afford this technology?" asked Jane Margolis, a senior researcher at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. "The threat is that it is going to replicate current inequities."
Croll asserted that this accessibility issue was the reason Apple is releasing the app free of charge, stating that students, parents, and other consumers could use it to teach themselves coding at home. He claimed that the exclusive nature of the app was designed to ensure that users had a high-quality experience.
According to Apple, more than 100 schools and districts around the world have agreed to try to teach their students to code using Swift Playground.
"We are hoping it will be a good transition between block-coding and language-coding," said Trang Lai, Fullerton School District's director of educational services. In her district, each student in grades five through eight receives an iPad from the district.
"Right now, [Swift Playgrounds] is what is current," she said. "That is what is available, and that is what is free."