Behind the Scenes: Issues Remain with Using Digital Textbooks

By Asakuno, Sachiko | The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), May 24, 2015 | Go to article overview

Behind the Scenes: Issues Remain with Using Digital Textbooks


Asakuno, Sachiko, The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)


The education ministry has begun discussions on the systematic introduction of tablet terminals and other forms of "digital textbooks" for students.

Reports showing that wider use of information and communication technology increases students' understanding of their lessons prompted the move by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. However, a number of problems remain to using digital textbooks as official textbooks, making multifaceted discussions vital.

The term digital textbook generally refers to audio and video material that can be accessed through a digital blackboard or tablet device. These are categorized as "supplementary teaching materials" and are covered by local governments' budgets, including subsidies from the central government.

The focal point of the current ministry discussion is the pros and cons of the digitalization of official textbooks that have been approved through education ministry screening. By law, these official textbooks must be used at schools and are handed out free of charge during the years of compulsory education.

Under the current system, textbooks are assumed to be published in the form of a printed book, not digitally.

Challenges involved in introducing digital textbooks were presented on May 12 at the first meeting of the ministry's panel, which comprises representatives from various fields.

The effectiveness of digital textbooks in education largely depends on how teachers can utilize the related digital materials. Some panel members said improving teachers' abilities to use the materials is a large challenge.

There are also concerns that students could easily access harmful information through the Internet, and experiments and hands-on learning methods could be pushed aside.

If digital textbooks are to become official textbooks, there must also be a review of the textbook screening system, which checks the accuracy and balance of texts and charts. "It will take a lot of time and huge personnel costs to ensure the quality of information by screening video and audio content," a panel member said.

Panel Deputy Chairman Shigeru Amagasa, a professor of school administration at Chiba University, said: "We should find ways to utilize the strengths of both paper and digital textbooks, not just replace paper with digital."

As textbooks lie at the very foundation of education, it is imperative to thoroughly discuss the issue.

Over 70,000 devices nationwide

As of March last year, 72,700 tablet terminals were distributed to about 35,000 public schools nationwide, according to an education ministry survey. The number of terminals was double the figure in the previous school year.

These devices enable students to combine such data as English pronunciation, 3-D images of diagrams and video information for experiments, for example. In a government study, tablet terminals were effective in helping students acquire knowledge and stimulating their intellectual curiosity.

On May 14, an English class was conducted for third-year students at Fukagawa Daiichi Middle School in Koto Ward, Tokyo. They practiced pronouncing English words along with audio information playing on their tablet terminals while looking at English words. The Japanese meaning for each word was alternately shown on the screen.

When chief English teacher Tetsuji Kuwano, 39, writes the Japanese meanings of the English words on his tablet for teachers, they appear on the students' tablets at the same time. …

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