Singapore sees digital textbooks in future

Local ICT regulator IDA and Ministry of Education have been exploring use of digital textbooks in recent years with some success as students become more tech-savvy and comfortable accessing information online, says IDA rep.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The education ministry has been exploring the use of digital textbooks in local schools in recent years, with limited projects deployed in pilot schools to test out its feasibility.

According to a spokesperson for local ICT regulator, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), and Ministry of Education (MOE), digital textbooks offer "useful learning possibilities that go beyond printed materials" given that today's students are more technologically savvy and comfortable accessing information online.

The government officer was responding to queries from ZDNet Asia, following news that South Korea was planning to digitize textbooks for all elementary, middle and high school students by 2015.

Asked if Singapore had similar plans, the spokesperson said IDA and MOE have been exploring the use of digital textbooks in recent years, taking into account not just curricular needs but also "pedagogical perspectives" that look into modes of instructing students that will make lessons more "meaningful and effective".

For instance, he revealed that Singapore had been testing an interactive digital textbook called the AmBook, which adopts an inquiry-based approach for the learning of science, in participating schools under its FutureSchools@Singapore project. The Ambook merges videos, animation, text and interactive learning objects on one platform to provide students with a rich repository of simulative and engaging content to liven up the topic.

"The focus of this project is not just the digital textbook itself, but its development was guided by appropriate and pedagogically-sound learning and teaching processes," he added.

FutureSchools@Singapore was initiated to allow local schools to enhance the diversity of educational offerings to cater to students' needs, and provide possible models for seamless and pervasive integration of IT including interactive digital media. According to IDA's Web site, among the pioneer batch of six schools under the program are Crescent Girls School, Hwa Chong Institution and The School of Science and Technology.

"MOE and IDA will continue to encourage and support the experimentation of technology use in schools, as well as the spread of good ideas and innovative practices across our schools," the spokesperson said.

Education goes online
South Korea last month had announced plans to move toward a digital textbook environment for all elementary, middle and high school students by 2015. Korean news site Chosun Ilbo reported on Jun. 30 that this "smart education" initiative aims to help South Korean students create their own study pattern and lighten their backpacks. The project will cost the government about 2.2 trillion won (US$2 billion), the report added.

However, stakeholders interviewed by Singapore-based broadcaster Channel NewsAsia, in a Jul. 4 report, expressed reservations about the project. Kwan Chan Mi, a researcher at Guil Elementary School, pointed out that it will be costly to develop the online textbooks since these will have to contain "more variety" than traditional textbooks, and personal tablet devices will have to be purchased for all students.

Besides South Korea, United States are also looking to go down the digital textbooks route. Online magazine site Macleans reported last Friday that the U.S. will be investing about US$2 billion in a new program that will create free online teaching and course materials for post-secondary programs of two years or less.

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