While colleges and school districts across the U.S. have been studying and considering how best to manage the transition to digital textbooks, the rest of the world is already moving towards it. The World Bank recently launched an initiative to assist developing and developed countries upgrade their education infrastructure technology with national digital textbook programs.
The move was sparked by a 2008 study on the availability of secondary education materials in Africa, which found that, of the 19 Sub-Saharan countries studied, only Botswana had enough textbooks for all subjects at all grades. To address the discrepancy, the World Bank began a pilot program in 2010 that distributed e-readers, like Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes& Noble’s Nook, to students in Nigeria.
At the conclusion of the study the students provided researchers with feedback that could shape the tablet computing in the developing world. The number one issue that the students identified was access to power; according to a recent article in The Economist, Nigeria’s electric grid is cripplingly out-of-date and requires an estimated $100 billion overhaul.
Because of Nigeria’s lack of reliable electricity, the students found that the devices had long periods of downtime while the batteries were recharging and recommended that manufacturers add interchangeable batteries. Nigeria is not the only African nation experiencing an explosion of digital reading. In South Africa USAID and the World Bank, along with non-governmental organizations Yowza and Worldreader, are exploring the usage of e-readers and mobile phones for educational development.
Digital textbook initiatives have not been limited solely to Africa. In 2011, the government of South Korea decided that within four-years all textbooks in the nation would be digital. However, the government began to walk back the decision after a study found that one in 12 South Korean children between the ages of five and nine are addicted to the internet.
The South Korean government amended its initial decision to one mandating that digital textbooks will be used alongside traditional textbooks and that early education classes, such as first and second grade, will most likely continue to use paper books. In addition to concerns about facilitating internet addiction, governments are also finding that ownership of digital content is not as clear-cut as the ownership of paper content.
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