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The move to e-textbooks is the next logical step

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Fri, Sep 05, 2014

Now that all our secondary school students are in possession of their laptops, this is as good a time as any for stakeholders in the education sector to take a serious look at transitioning to e-textbooks, if they are not already doing so.

Actually, we should have been piloting this type of textbook simultaneously with the roll out of the laptops, for if there is too much delay in moving in this direction, by the time we are ready to transition, we would have to divert resources to replacing and repairing some of the laptops, which would have suffered trauma by then.{{more}}

There are so many reasons why this is the route we should take that one is hard pressed to think why launching out into this area should not be a priority.

Over the past two weeks, parents have been doing what they have done at this time of the year for several years – they have taken to the radio complaining about the textbooks on their children’s book lists.

The parents, and some teachers too, justifiably complain about the cost of textbooks, the quantity needed, how quickly they change, and the weight of the books.

Even though there is the government sponsored book loan scheme, not all the books are available under this programme, and those which are not, must be acquired by the parents. Teachers and parents have been questioning why are there so many revisions to expensive texts, making it impossible for children to pass their books on to their younger siblings.

In addition to that, whether children get the books from the book loan scheme or not, there is the problem of the weight of the books which our students must lug around on a daily basis. The risk of damage to the spines of the youngsters is significant. Studies in the United States have shown that these heavy bags pose a real problem and in some cases have caused back and should pains and in extreme cases, curvature of the spines of children.

Skeptics may question the cost of e-textbooks and the fact that not all children have Internet access at home. Actually, the cost to the State of paper textbooks over a three-year period compares favorably the cost of laptops or tablets, e-textbooks, e-learning software and maintenance of these systems over that same period.

Besides issues of dollars and cents, convenience and health, one of the compelling arguments in favour of e-textbooks is that they may very well improve outcomes in our students. Our young people have been born into a digital age and we must admit that the traditional methods of teaching bore them. They are accustomed to using interactive software applications for many of their interactions (some people say too many of their interactions), but when they go to school, a different scenario awaits them. With e-learning, lessons could be customized to the needs of individual students, with practice tests focusing on the areas of particular weakness of each child.

As for Internet access at home, the NTRC offers subsidized Internet connectivity to low-income homes with school age children, in an effort to level the playing field in that regard. Strangely enough, our information is that very few persons have taken the NTRC up on their offer.

So are the textbooks on our children’s book lists available in e-formats? Many are. Just last year, British publisher Nelson Thornes made an e-textbook used in preparation for the Caribbean Secondary Education (CSEC) Geography examinations available for students in Jamaica to download free of charge. And as time goes by, many more titles will be available in this format. In Jamaica too, the Universal Service Fund is sponsoring the development of digitised educational materials in 11 CSEC subjects for use in all high schools on the island. We think this is a good move.

Let us in SVG go beyond considering this move. The benefits to be derived are tremendous.

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