May 3, 2011 / 8:40 PM / in 7 years

Apple co-founder Wozniak: computers can teach kids

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Apple Inc co-founder Steve Wozniak has an idea that could help fix the U.S. public education system: computers, of course.

<p>Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Inc., pauses before answering a question from the floor after speaking on "Innovation and Creativity in the 21st Century" at a seminar in Singapore March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Chong</p>

Technology is getting to the point where devices are built today that have all the sensors humans have -- of movement, eyesight and hearing, although they are still far from replacing human teachers, he said.

“We’re getting closer to where you can make devices that become a friend and not just a computerized textbook,” he told chip engineers at an event in Silicon Valley on Tuesday.

Faced with big budget gaps, states and school districts may have to make budget cuts that affect class sizes, curriculum and teachers’ salaries. Since public schools are heavily funded by states, they typically bear the brunt of the cuts.

Wozniak, who founded Apple Computer in 1976 with Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne, said education systems have not adapted to children’s needs, with schools adhering to a top-down teaching philosophy.

“If you had 30 teachers in a class with 30 students, they’d all get individual attention and be moving at their own paces,” Wozniak said. “So I think someday a computer could possibly be a teacher.”

One qualification that Wozniak brings to his thoughts on education: he secretly taught elementary school for eight years.

“School in itself is pretty much a restrictive force on creativity,” he said. “When you come to class, you do the exact same pages in the book, the same hours as everyone else in the class. You don’t go off in your own little directions.”

“That is not the way of the future,” he said. “Lot of kids get lost in our school system.”

The lifelong hands-on engineer, who stopped working for Apple in 1987, but is still on the payroll, serves as chief scientist for start-up Fusion-io, which says its technology speeds up data processing.

Wozniak was key in building the Apple I and Apple II computers that helped revolutionize personal computing. Popularly knows as “Woz,” he gained most of his engineering knowledge from his father and from tinkering with computers late into the night in his bedroom.

“I never had a textbook for this stuff,” he said.

Reporting by Poornima Gupta and Noel Randewich. Editing by Robert MacMillan

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