Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Digital textbooks for Chile

When the Ministry of Education distributes textbooks, is actually doing three different things at once: is selecting educational content, printed paper is buying and is paying for all this comes to all schools. How these three operations could change if the Ministry of Education decided to digitize textbooks, as it has done as South Korea and the United States has just announce?

The most obvious change is the distribution. With digital texts, placed in a digital reading device (eReader) or a low-cost tablet, each year you could add or modify the content to update them remotely without the need for warehouses, inventory, trucks and vans, which as we know, not always reach their destination. If the devices include touch function (as indeed do all the tablets and several eReaders already on the market) could be included right there activities that students must perform in them.



In the case of non-print, I only see advantages in the change. First, the environmental impact of thousands of printed pages, hundreds of vehicles traveling miles to get to all schools each year. In addition, tests have been done so far have shown very little difference in reading comprehension and retention, when the reading experience is in digital devices or printed books, sometimes for one, sometimes of another experience . Any errors in a text could be corrected in a matter of minutes and any curriculum change could be reflected in school textbooks in a matter of days.

In relation to content, as I wrote a while ago, the Ministry of Education pays for the same content repeatedly, as the publishers will sell over and over about the same text (with minor adjustments almost always), keeping them the copyright and use rights over content. If now the Ministry of Education decides to separate this bid from the other two, buying the rights to use the educational content on any platform, taking three steps would be enormous. First, break the monopoly hold today publishing companies based in the power of their presses, not the intrinsic quality of its content. This would allow the participation of many other content providers, businesses and individuals, especially teachers, who could offer quality content. Second, because it would create a bank of content diverse and growing, to allow teachers and students use different strategies according to social context, according to the tastes and interests of students, according to the consistency of thematic units together and combined with other subjects. And third, because in this way could be opened to a new variety of types of resources, not only printed pages, but also videos, animations, interactive applications, networking experiences, evaluation activities, etc. If we add to this that, since we have the devices in the hands of students, we can fill them with books appropriate for each age and level, improving the availability of school libraries so they are always "at hand" of students and their families. And if you are connected, we have hundreds of communication possibilities, school management, networking, ready to use.

Of course, this is not something that can be done in the overnight. Requires many regulatory changes, logistical and especially cultural. Required to bear the powerful interests that holds the current situation. And it requires a political decision. The ministry has already spent 21 billion pesos each year in the purchase and distribution of printed text, other 6 billion in school libraries and almost 50 billion in the program Enlaces. With little to invest more resources in 4 years could move toward a universal policy of digital textbooks. For many countries in Latin America, this is an impossible dream. Chile could make it happen if he had the will and the courage to address change.

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