AUDIE CORNISH, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died this past week, some of the most heartfelt online tributes came from educators and students. Apple helped pioneer the use of computers in schools back in the 1980s. And as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, Steve Jobs's education legacy is growing with the popularity of using mobile devices in the classroom.
(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS TALKING)
LARRY ABRAMSON: These fifth graders at Santa Rita Elementary in Los Altos, California are doing math on their MacBooks. Their teacher is using an iPad to track their progress. You could see this scene in classrooms across the country. Steve Jobs placed a strong emphasis on getting a foothold in schools. Karen Cator worked in Apple's education department for a dozen years. She said Jobs's concept of the personal computer was always linked to learning.
KAREN CATOR: He was very focused on making sure that all of the technologies were focused on people, that it was about augmenting human performance and helping people be as excellent as possible.
ABRAMSON: In the early days, Apple had to create a market for personal computers in schools. Liz Kolb, a lecturer at the University of Michigan, says the graphical user interface that Jobs popularized did that.
LIZ KOLB: He had elementary students using computers. A few years before that, nobody thought that a third grader or fourth grader could use a computer.
ABRAMSON: At first, Apple dominated the education marketplace. The company spread the word through a savvy marketing campaign that cemented the loyalty of teachers. Tom Greaves, an education consultant in California, says Apple created a group of evangelists called Apple Distinguished Educators.
TOM GREAVES: They go to shows, trade shows, they speak at conferences, they - if Apple has a school that would like to move over to Apple, they have them speak to Apple Distinguished Educators.
ABRAMSON: Soon, cheaper Windows machines ended up taking the lead among schools. But in recent years, according to Greaves, Apple has been resurgent, and is now back to about a quarter of the education market. Tom Greaves says Apple's role has grown with the rise of mobile devices, from wireless laptops to iPhones and iPads.
GREAVES: Apple is growing much more rapidly on the mobile side than the other vendors. They got onto it earlier. As the world moves to mobile, then Apple reaps the benefits of that.
ABRAMSON: Although Windows machines still dominate, Apple has become the largest single vendor to schools. Tim Garton of the Maine Department of Education says he's gone with Apple for 10 years, because the company unifies software, hardware and support in a way others cannot.
TIM GARTON: And that's because it's a total solution. It needs to have the wireless, it needs to have the device, it needs to have the special development, it needs to have the software solution that's going to support all that.
ABRAMSON: Apple has been pushing just as hard into the higher education market. In a recent survey, nearly half of all college students said they planned to buy an Apple laptop. Eric Weil of Student Monitor did the survey. He says, buying an Apple product ranks really high among all the priorities of college students.
ERIC WEIL: Specifically, the Apple iPhone has a higher score than drinking beer.
ABRAMSON: Whether Apple products have been effective education tools is another question. Many still doubt whether all the money spent on technology has yielded much. But thanks to Steve Jobs's focus on the classroom, few schools ask whether they need technology. Now, it's a question of how much, and how to use it. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.