View from here - 'Smart city' plan signals the end for textbooks

29th July 2011 at 01:00
South Korea - The 'most wired' nation wants to replace all paper materials with electronic tablets in state-run schools by 2015

News arrived recently that will have sent any self-respecting bibliophile into a state of shock. The world's "most wired" nation, South Korea, has announced it expects to replace all paper textbooks with electronic tablets at its state-run schools by 2015.

South Korea's education ministry is to spend 2.2 trillion won (US$2 billion) on converting existing school textbooks and developing cloud-computing systems to provide digitised content for learning.

Much of that money will be invested in a spanking new education-specific cloud-computing network where students can store their digital textbooks and more besides. So, millions of young Koreans will be happily giving the heave-ho to heavy school satchels.

It is all part of the South Korean government's plans to turn the tiny country into a "smart" nation. We all know about smart phones, but now Seoul says it is building networked "smart cities" from scratch.

Such cities connect just about everything through an exceedingly fast internet network to bring residents control over their home security and energy, and even attend classes, parent-teacher meetings or medical consultations without leaving home.

Next are smart schools, but, with teleconferencing "telepresence" screens in every home, it is possible that schools in South Korea might be abolished in favour of home-tutoring children under the watchful eye of a remote Big Teacher.

Smart schools also mean smart training for thousands of decidedly analogue pedagogues, who will be readied for the rude departure from traditional teaching methods in favour of the all-singing and all-dancing digitised learning Seoul wants to see.

Not that Korea's digital generation will need any training in the new media. So many now look askance at paper books and think email is for formal occasions.

Take the 20-mile bus ride from Seoul towards the forbidding barb-wired, watchtower-strewn border with North Korea to the South's new publishing hub Paju Bookcity and, should you ever get the chance, take a good look at your fellow passengers.

Some, as elsewhere on the planet, will be absorbed in their mobile phones, even watching live TV on them. Some will be playing computer games on handhelds while others may be surfing the net via Seoul's blistering fast public wi-fi. What few, if any, will be doing is reading a paper book.

Paju Bookcity remains untroubled because it is in the vanguard of digital publishing in a country that sold 10 times as many e-books as France did last year. California, too, is getting rid of its dead-tree textbooks.

So, like it or not, e-book and digital content, for the next generation at least, seems as sure to eclipse pulped wood and ink as the codex replaced the scroll.

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