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The challenges of e-textbooks

  • The adoption of e-textbooks marks an important milestone in digitization, but we need to address the many issues involved to create an equitable learning environment for schools nationwide.

Sin Chew Daily

Deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching announced last Friday that the ministry would introduce e-textbooks beginning next year.

As frequent use of electronic devices could have negative impact on the eyesight of primary school students, the e-textbook policy will only be implemented in secondary schools. That said, students can still choose to use the conventional textbooks.

During the initial stage, textbook content will basically be converted to the PDF format uploaded to the education ministry's website for students to download to their own devices.

Beginning 2020, e-textbooks will be upgraded to become interactive multimedia files that will give the students a more lively learning experience vis-à-vis the monotonous PDF version.

The education ministry's move to digitize education for the millennials is timely and appropriate. However, its success to a large extent depends on active and effective coordination from other relevant departments in order to digitize school campuses nationwide.

For instance, where the most fundamental question of reading tools is concerned, will the government provide the students with tablets or laptops, or help financially stressed students acquire these devices through some sort of easy payment scheme? This has to be prearranged instead of giving the students an option of using conventional textbooks.

Think about it: how will the teachers be able to teach their students effectively and fairly if some of the students in a classroom are still using conventional textbooks while the others are adopting the e-textbooks? This difference could give rise to an unhealthy learning environment as some may feel inferior to their peers.

Besides overcoming the problem of the supply of devices, another challenge that needs to be considered is whether Internet coverage has reached all secondary schools and the students' homes across the nation.

Many remote rural areas of East Malaysia not only suffer from absence of Internet services but also inadequate electricity supply. Children living in such places will not be able to enjoy the same level of conveniences and learning environment as their peers in West Malaysia.

If the government is unable to upgrade the infrastructure of these remote areas, the disparity in educational levels between East and West Malaysia will only get wider.

Even if the problems of devices and Internet availability are solved, Internet charges will still be a costly burden for many less well-off families.

The adoption of e-textbooks marks an important milestone in digitization, and we cannot afford to be left behind in competitiveness. While it is commendable for the education ministry to make this bold move to digitize our classrooms, it is equally important for it to address the many issues involved in order to create an equitable learning environment for schools nationwide and take Malaysia one big stride ahead in teaching standard.

 

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