Digital textbooks open a new chapter

Gwesan, South Korea South Korea's classrooms will be switched to digital textbooks over the next four years

South Korea, one of the world's highest-rated education systems, aims to consolidate its position by digitising its entire curriculum.

By 2015, it wants to be able to deliver all its curriculum materials in a digital form through computers. The information that would once have been in paper textbooks will be delivered on screen.

South Korea's Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Ju-Ho Lee, said that his department was preparing a promotion strategy for "Smart Education", focusing on customised learning and teaching.

The project, launched during the summer, will involve wireless networks in all schools to allow students to learn "whenever and wherever", as well as an education information system that can run in a variety of devices including PCs, laptops, tablets and internet-connected TVs.

He said the government would support an open content market containing a variety of learning materials, aimed at keeping up quality while keeping down costs.

"Smart Education will change how we perceive textbooks," said Mr Lee.

"The transfer from the traditional paper textbooks to digital textbooks will allow students to leave behind their heavy backpacks and explore the world beyond the classroom."

Tech-friendly teenagers

The intended benefits include extending the choice of subjects for students in rural areas who previously have lacked specialist teachers and to make it easier for pupils to study from home.

South Korea's teenagers should be particularly receptive to such educational technology.

SOUTH KOREA

Showroom in South Korea
  • South Korea is second in global rankings for reading, fourth for maths and fifth for science
  • Family spending on education is the highest in the world, as a proportion of household income
  • It has been among the most improved education systems in the world. In 1945, 78% of the population were illiterate. It now outperforms all European countries and the US at reading
  • In the 1980s, South Korea banned private tutoring
  • This year it introduced a ban on corporal punishment

An Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development (OECD) international assessment found that 15-year-olds in South Korea were the most competent users of digital technologies in a survey of 16 developed countries.

They were best at evaluating information on the internet, assessing its credibility and navigating web pages.

South Korea's pre-eminence has not come about by chance.

Unesco has documented the way that South Korea has carefully controlled the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in education.

The government has understood the importance of having formal standards, so that systems can work with each other and quality can be assured.

The United States, alarmed by its relative international educational decline, is now also increasing the resources it devotes to digital learning.

But its move appears to be an acknowledgement of a lack of joined-up thinking in the past.

President Barack Obama's "Digital Promise", announced last month, involves a new national centre to advance technologies that can supposedly transform teaching and learning.

The remit is "to determine quickly what is working and what is not, and transform today's fragmented learning technology market, paving the way for the widespread use of learning technologies that deliver the best results for students, parents, and teachers".

Teaching gap

"With more than 14,000 school districts, and an outdated procurement system, it's difficult for entrepreneurs to break into the market, and it's also tough to prove that their products can deliver meaningful results," the White House said.

DIGITAL CLASSROOMS

E-book reader
  • The Indian state of Tamil Nadu is giving 6.8 million free laptops to school pupils
  • Uruguay plans to be the first country where all school pupils are given their own laptop
  • Apple says 600 US school districts are switching to digital textbooks on iPads
  • Amazon has launched a rental service in the US for digital textbooks for students

Given the way education in the US is so highly devolved there are bound to be continuing questions over how much the initiative can achieve.

Another question is whether technology in the classroom is what really makes a difference.

A study by the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University found that digital technology in the classroom might help to engage pupils in their learning and could save schools money.

But the Achilles' heel - commonplace with educational technology - was the teachers. They felt they needed far greater training in how to integrate the resources into their lesson plans.

"The sad truth is that students can learn just as badly with a class full of computers, interactive whiteboards and mobile technology as they can with wooden desks and a chalkboard," said science and ICT teacher David Weston, founder of the consultancy Informed Education.

There might be enormous potential for software or gadgets to engage and challenge students in new and imaginative ways.

"But unless there is a focus on developing the teaching expertise to support this then you run the risk of wasting time, money and opportunity," he said.

And it may be that technology is seen as a way to achieve cost savings by - to put it crudely - replacing teachers with robots.

Digital tutor

Setting out its Digital Promise ambitions, the White House said: "For years, researchers have been working on developing educational software that is as effective as a personal tutor."

President Obama Digital Promise has been launched by US President Obama to keep up with global competitors

Preliminary results from a US military "digital tutor" project suggested the time needed to become an expert in information technology could be reduced from years to months, said the White House.

"Achieving similar results in subjects such as math would transform K-12 [primary] education." It certainly would.

And although children tend to be quicker on the uptake than their teachers where anything with a screen is involved, this cannot be taken for granted.

The OECD's study of the technology-friendliness of 15-year-olds highlighted crucial differences between printed and digital texts, with their non-linear navigation.

"Individuals who develop the skills needed to use these texts efficiently and effectively will be at an increasing advantage in accessing higher education, finding and succeeding in a well-paid job, and participating fully in society."

So policy makers must guard against creating a new "digital divide" between those who could and who could not use these new technologies, it warned.

Big Brother?

But is there a bigger, darker concern about such a centralised digital curriculum? If you put all your educational eggs in one digital basket you might hatch a monster.

An unscrupulous government could relish the fact that everything a child learns is controllable through one, easily manipulated, digital portal.

Electronic books Do we trust the written word in digital books in the same way as the traditional printed editions?

Such fears have been examined in the novel, The Book, by M Clifford. The US author presents a dystopian civilization in which all information is accessed through an e-reader. The people discover that the digital content has been subtly altered by a corrupt government.

"There is something about paper that commands trust," Mr Clifford said. "And reading is very personal. A bonfire of books used to make us cringe because it represented the destruction of that trustworthy bond."

In an increasingly paperless society, we can trust the technology, but questions need to be raised when governments are involved, he says.

"The scare for me was always the subtlety. The delicate manipulation, one word at a time, to alter someone's perception of the truth.

"Not only is there a fear of changing historical record, but of tailoring someone's perspective on the world. If you think that what you are reading is authentic, then your guard is lowered and you accept it as reality."

He debunks his own dark scenario - but has doubts. "As we've seen, the world is becoming more interconnected on an individual level and so it is unlikely that factual information could be so widely altered. We are probably safe.

"But the fact that it could happen without anyone knowing is the real nail-biter."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    Via Twitter Robert Peston Economics editor

    tweets: "A win is a win, but @George_Osborne will note ECJ ruled on ECB's lack of authority not on merit of discrimination against non-euro members"

     
  2.  
    10:55: Scottish Power
    Pylons

    Scottish Power has been banned from "proactive sales" for 12 days by Ofgem for failing to meet customer service targets. The energy supplier said it was committed to treating customers fairly.

     
  3.  
    10:43: Indian economy World Service
    Arya

    A trip not to Bollywood but Tollywood for Business Matters presenter Fergus Nicoll in the latest instalment of the programme's trip to Chennai in southern India. Fergus asks how far economic development is provoking social change and interviews Tamil language film star Arya (pictured left). Listen here.

     
  4.  
    10:29: Tesco board
    Tesco

    More boardroom moves at Tesco. Gareth Bullock is stepping down from the main board tomorrow after almost five years, but will remain a director of Tesco Bank. He follows Jacqueline Tammenoms and Liv Garfield, who said last week they would leave. Byron Grote - a director of Unilever, Anglo American, Standard Chartered and Akzo Nobel - will join from 1 May.

     
  5.  
    Via Twitter

    Simon Nixon, chief European commentator for the Wall Street Journal, tweets:

    Huge upward surprise in eurozone retail sales, up 1.1% on month compared to consensus forecast of 0.2%. More evidence recovery strengthening. @Simon_Nixon

    Shopping
     
  6.  
    10:13: Household incomes BBC Radio 4

    Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie, accepts that incomes have improved for some, but not most people: "The Chancellor has got a plan which is very much focussed on that trickle-down philosophy lavishing tax cuts on those at the top - and the people at the top are doing very well. It's the question about 90% of the rest of the country - what is happening to them? And for them life is getting much harder."

     
  7.  
    09:57: Market update

    Here are the market numbers. London's FTSE 100 is down 0.12% at 6,880.78. Frankfurt's Dax is down 0.41% at 11,234.49 and Paris's Cac 40 is up 0.05% at 4,871.87. The pound is down 0.13% against the dollar at $1.5344 and is up 0.28% at 1.3783. Ho hum.

     
  8.  
    09:48: Eurozone economy

    More good news. The January services PMI for the 19-country eurozone, which is up one point to 53.7 - but a touch under the flash reading of 53.9. "The outlook has brightened for all countries," says Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

     
  9.  
    Via Twitter James Landale Deputy political editor

    Big question: is UK win at ECJ against eurozone land grab a one off or proof that UK can win EU reform battles? @BBCJLandale

     
  10.  
    09:26: Euro ruling
    Euro notes

    Good news for the City after the General Court of the European Union ruled that the European Central Bank was wrong to insist that euro clearing houses be based in the eurozone. Britain had challenged the policy, saying it went against the bloc's single market.

     
  11.  
    09:16: Economy CBI Radio 5 live

    John Cridland the CBI chief got in a couple of requests for George Osborne via Wake Up to Money: "Lower taxes on business because if you give business money they can create more jobs. But we need to invest in childcare support for low paid families. The cost of childcare is holding them back from taking jobs."

     
  12.  
    09:02: Household incomes BBC Radio 4

    Chancellor George Osborne, has been talking to the BBC: "The picture you hear, particularly from my political opponents, of the British economy, is not one reflected in this independent report. Indeed quite the opposite - what they show is that Britain is growing, that incomes are rising, that the richest have made the biggest contribution, that inequality has fallen."

     
  13.  
    08:48: Standard Chartered
    Standard Chartered

    No great surprise, perhaps, that outgoing Standard Chartered chief executive Peter Sands - and three other directors - have decided not to take a bonus for last year considering that the bank's pre-tax profits fell by a quarter to $5.1bn (£3.3bn). With a touch of understatement, chairman Sir John Peace says: "2014 was a challenging year and our performance was disappointing."

     
  14.  
    08:35: Household incomes

    More on that research suggesting living standards in the UK have now returned to levels last seen before the financial crash. The IFS says incomes are now rising at more than 1% a year. Its director, Paul Johnson, says there is not much to trumpet about: "It's astonishing actually that seven years later incomes are still no higher than they were pre-recession and indeed for working-age households they're still a bit below where they were pre-recession."

     
  15.  
    08:23: BlackBerry BBC World News

    Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has been speaking to John Chen, the boss of BlackBerry, on World Business Report. Rory asks him if he can imagine company no longer making handsets: "It's a little bit of speculation at the moment. I would say this: for our shareholders, nothing is sacred." Perhaps sales volumes speak louder than words.

     
  16.  
    Via Twitter Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    So what does @jimmy_wales consider "an abomination"? And what does @CBItweets want from the Chancellor? Click here to listen to today's Wake Up to Money. @AdamParsons1

     
  17.  
    08:07: Eurostar sale BBC Radio 4
    Eurostar

    Sim Harris, managing editor of Rail News, tells Today that Britain's 40% stake in Eurostar went for a higher than expected £757m because there was a lack of high quality assets available to investors. He adds: "Whether it's the right thing to do is a question for George Osborne."

     
  18.  
    07:55: Legal and General results

    The insurer Legal & General said operating profits rose 10% last year to a lower than expected £1.28bn. Company pension deals helped sales of annuities to jump 28% to £44bn.

     
  19.  
    07:44: Greggs results

    Greggs has been freshening up its stores over the past year. It refitted 213 shops, opened 50 new outlets and closed 71 to bring the total to 1,650 shops as of 3 January.

     
  20.  
    Via Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    Forget the IFS, the Pasty Index is in - Greggs sales up 4.5%, always a good barometer of consumer confidence. @bbckamal

     
  21.  
    Via Twitter Robert Peston Economics editor

    tweets: "Living standards back to where they were in 2007-8, but mainly for those over 60. & are rising strongly now, says IFS "

     
  22.  
    07:17: ITV results
    ITV

    ITV plans to return £250m to shareholders with a special dividend of 6.25p a share after a bumper 2014, with adjusted pre-tax profits up 23% to £712m and 39% higher at £605m on the pure pre-tax measure. Revenue rose 7% to a shade under £3bn. "ITV is now a high-growth business," says chief executive Adam Crozier.

     
  23.  
    07:06: Eurostar sale BBC Radio 4
    Eurostar

    Gemma Godfrey, head of investment strategy at Brooks Macdonald Asset Management, tells Today that the £757m the Government got for the Eurostar stake was higher than expected, but questions what the proceeds be used to fund. She believes the cash should be used to fund the next generation of infrastructure that will in turn create profits for the public purse.

     
  24.  
    07:00: Greggs results
    Greggs shop

    Greggs results hit the desk. Total sales rose 5.5% to £804m, while like-for-like sales up 4.5% - much better than the 0.8% fall in 2013.

     
  25.  
    06:49: ITV results BBC Radio 4
    Downton cast

    ITV reports annual results very soon. Toby Syfret of Enders Analysis has told Today that while channel brands have become less important than they were in the past, the decline is gradual. Programming - such as Downton Abbey - remains the crucial factor. "Good content is going to be the core of whoever is successful in the future," he says.

     
  26.  
    Via Twitter Sally Bundock Presenter, World Business Report

    tweets: "Morning. #Ukraine hikes interest rates to 30%. Plus GDP slows in #Australia and an i/v with the boss of #Blackberry. See you soon." That's on World Business Report.

     
  27.  
    06:26: Household incomes

    Big discussion about the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report on household incomes. Whether the average household income is back to levels they were at before the financial downturn struck. One measure, for the over 60s, it is. But for most of the rest of us, it hasn't got there yet. Our story here.

     
  28.  
    06:15: India rates

    India has cut its main lending rate by a quarter of a point to 7.5% in a bid to boost economic growth. It is the second time this year that the Reserve Bank of India has cut rates as inflation is running at 5.1% - well under the 8% target - on the back of cheaper oil.

     
  29.  
    06:12: Sandwiches Radio 5 live
    UK map of bread names

    Greggs figures are out in an hour or so. The market is looking for 4% growth, earnings are expected to be up 9%. The UK is estimated to spend £9bn a year on sandwiches. Wake Up to Money has been discussing what these are variously called around the country. There's a map illustrating this.

     
  30.  
    06:07: Eurostar sale

    The stake is being bought by a Canadian pension fund and a UK asset manager will buy shares for £585m and Eurostar will also hand over £170m to redeem shares which guarantee a dividend. The stake was officially valued last year at £325m.

     
  31.  
    06:02: Eurostar sale Radio 5 live

    The sale by the Government of its shares in Eurostar for £750m is under discussion on Wake Up to Money. Gemma Godfrey head of investment strategy at wealth manager Brooks MacDonald tells the programme: "After the debacle we saw when they were selling Royal Mail they had to get it right and the value has come in above expectations."

     
  32.  
    06:00: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    Good morning. Strap in and sit back. Today's Business Live page will have all the news, all day. Greggs and ITV results are expected to be early highlights.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Kinetic sculpture violinClick Watch

    The "kinetic sculpture" that can replicate digital files and play them on a violin

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.