South Korean schools to go paperless

Why aren’t we doing the same?


South Korea will be the first. By 2015, they have promised, their entire school system will be paperless. The country is spending $2 billion on creating cloud accessible, perennially updatable digital textbooks.

The U.S. is putting the same amount into their own electronic textbook program. Obama called textbooks a “huge racket” and a “big scam” while campaigning, decrying the common practice of college profs putting their own works on the curriculum, essentially forcing students to pay them personal royalties on top of tuition. Now, the Departments of Labour and Education is investing heavily in “Open Access” ebooks for post-secondary programs. The $2 billion will pay for the creation of the texts, which will then be free for all, and, one assumes, open for Wikipedia-style updates and edits. Other U.S. efforts, like the California Open Source Textbook Project, will push the initiative along for K-12 schools.

Ebooks can be a tough sell for cash-strapped schools lacking the hardware to read them. But add Open Access/Open Source to the equation, and the long-term savings usually outweigh the costs (here’s an app that lets educational buyers calculate exactly what they stand to save). Clunky hardcover textbooks, constantly in need of repair or replacement, with built-in obsolescence, are a major expense for schools. As soon as decent, curriculum-connected free versions are online, they can be used anywhere. Once forward-thinking Canadian classes take the plunge, it’s unlikely they’ll ever go back. (An obvious bonus is that unlike adults, kids prefer to read off of screens.)

But there’s a danger with letting other countries shell out for open ebook production and then swooping in to reap the benefits.  As Michael Geist has pointed out, this will leave Canadian content out in the cold.  Will our schools shun these open alternatives for lack of Canadian content, or will our publishers supplement the American texts with Canadian e-addendums?

Or, let me crazily suggest, might Canada actually get ahead of the ball, producing our own open textbooks that might be used in other countries? It’s not like our schools don’t have an incentive to break their dependance on the existing textbook racket—they’re about to cut a cheque of $60 million or so to Access Copyright for licensing violations of existing educational materials.


South Korean schools to go paperless

    • Actually, probably because education is a provincial responsibility.  Which is a STUPID reason to not do something, but the provinces will wait for another province to do it, and the Feds will claim their hands are tied.  Naturally, the last thing anyone would ever think to do, much less move to actually do it, is get together and cooperate.  Am I allowed to say co op er ate  without the censors getting mad?

      • The feds could do it if they wished to, and the provinces would cheer them on.

        Fed priorities are wrong, so we’re falling further and further behind…in tech, in education, in innovation

        Sad, sad, sad…

        • The provinces are responsible for the curriculum, but they usually buy existing books or partner with publishers to get the texts they want.

          The feds could begin the process and start creating the ebooks, inviting the provinces to contribute to the cost and to customize modules as they see fit.

          With the cheapest eReaders already down around the $100 mark [retail] and getting cheaper, it would certainly be more cost-effective to issue students one reader for a number of years than to buy all those books. More tree-friendly too (I’d be interested to see a study on how many books’ worth of pollution is generated to make one eReader). Schools would need a certain number of “loaners”, though, for when they break / run out of juice / get misplaced.

          All indications are that we’re headed toward the end of the print medium. And I say that as someone who works for an information company who still derives much of its revenues from print (though much of our material is increasingly available electronically). Smart businesses are altering their models to adapt – and so should governments and educators.

          But I’ll really miss books – at least for pleasure reading. I still enjoy roaming through bookstores, and curling up with a book. Or scanning the bookshelves in my house to pick out one I haven’t read, or to grab an old favourite. Downloading my read and carrying all my books with me in a handheld just hasn’t won me over (yet) the way mp3 players have (though I still have all my old vinyl and CDs for backup).

          • The feds need to stress globalization and the knowledge economy, and push for them, and innovation, on a grand scale. That would move things along greatly

            But pretty much everything the feds are doing is pushing us in the opposite direction

            I don’t know what the other provinces are doing on education…but years ago I found that McGuinty  had read ‘The World is Flat’ by Friedman…and was promoting that kind of thing in Ont. I’ve seen the changes since so I hope it continues

            However it’s been met by Hudak promoting chain gangs

            The fed govt sets the tone for things…and until they do something big it’ll be harder for individual provinces to do more than keep the status quo…and that won’t get us anywhere.

    • I guess you are doing a bit better – instead of the 50s, you are stuck in 1989 with the notion that Japan is about to take a great leap forward with robotics (never mind that the Japanese economy has barely grown since 1989). Its not the robots that matter, it is their brains. That is where the US edge in software and IT comes in. 

      Industrial robots replace human labour that is pretty cheap, and takes up an increasingly small percentage of the workforce. In contrast, developments in AI may allow the replacement of high-cost, non-repetitive tasks. Watson is the first step towards medical diagnostic computers. Google translate will probably – in my lifetime – put translators out of work. Canada, you are right, is nowhere to be seen (our high tech firms tend to fizzle, while our biggest strengths are in mid-techs like automobiles and aerospace), but our history is a good example that you can live well near, but not at, the cutting edge. 

      • I have no idea what any of that means, and I doubt you do either, but you appear to be in the wrong century.

  1. I agree that it is irritating about buying textbooks but those American profs also put themselves online – or

    Maybe I am missing something but why do we need eBooks if we are going to online learning? 

    I understand there might be a few English or History books that pupils need but most info they learn now is already free online. 

    There is huge educate yourself industry in America and, of course, we can’t compete with that in Canada because we are scared of knowledge and progress – or we think there is Canadian math and science and American books will confuse the kiddies apparently – so we demand Feds do something even tho Provs are responsible for education.

    • I’ll bet the first guy to suggest synergizing the Internet and ebooks in classrooms is going to get himself a promotion. Personally, I’m waiting for the day we realize that multi-use devices encourage multitasking (which really means constant task-switching), diminish productivity/effectiveness and cripple our attention spans. 

  2. What an utter waste of money. Yes, textbooks decay over time and need repair. But so do e-books. I own plenty of books that are 40+ years old. Do you really think these e-books are going to still work after 5 years of being crammed in backpacks, dropped, or lost? Are books heavy – sure. But most kids nowadays could use a little exercise. 

    Textbooks also have some broader advantages that an open source alternative would lack. First, since they are put together as a singular project, they can better incorporate common and cohesive themes throughout. It is much harder to do that with a continually updated open source alternative. Second, most of these open source projects involve creating a single source. On the textbook market, in contrast, school boards have the choice to pick between different textbooks that may better suit their needs. 

    The problem is that textbook publishers are engaged in a lucrative shakedown, in which they release new editions all of the time, with little discernible change, but charge a fortune for the new editions. The solution is for schools to use their monopsony power, and punish publishers who engage in these practices, or failing that to regulate publishers. 

    Canada has a great education system, even though we spend far less per capita than the US. That is because quality education isn’t about nice-looking schools (most American schools I have seen are beautiful) or computers in every classroom, – it is about good, well-paid teachers and well-designed curricula. 

    • “Do you really think these e-books are going to still work after 5 years of being crammed in backpacks, dropped, or lost?”…. WHAT??? these e-books aren’t physical copies…… You seem to not understand technology very well.

      I’m guessing these open source textbooks can be accessed through any medium..

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  4. And when the systems are down….