A FRENCH publisher, Havas, is to launch the first pilot scheme for an electronic satchel among fourth-year pupils in five colleges (lower secondary schools).
The satchel, developed by Siemens, weighs about 1kg, is the size of an A4 sheet of paper and is a few centimetres thick. It has an interactive screen, sufficient memory for a year's textbooks, and provides text, images, sound and videos of historic events.
It would enable teachers to set exercises according to pupils' ability levels, provide more detailed explanations for those in difficulty and give access to databases.
The satchels will be loaded with two textbooks published by Havas subsidiaries for the fourth year, one on history-geography and one on life and earth sciences.
The idea is that schools would buy a stock of the equpment, and Havas would supply updated digitised textbooks at the beginning of each school year. Costs will be decided at the end of the pilot scheme in 2001.
"In the fourth year of college, textbooks cost about 1,000 francs (pound;94) per pupil," said Agnes Touraine, Havas executive vice-president. "Establishments renew their stock of books every four to six years."
The contents of French pupils' satchels are notoriously heavy, and can weigh up to 15kg. Former education minister Segolene Royal said that they should not exceed 10 per cent of a child's body weight.
Initially, Havas will concentrate on colleges, where books are paid for by the departmental councils, and will then turn its attention to lycees (upper secondary schools), where more and more regional governments are paying for textbooks.