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July 5, 2011

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Will Textbooks Go the Way of South Korea?

By Larry Walsh

South Korea schools are going paperless. According to published reports, the South Korean government will spend $2.4 billion to replace textbooks with tablets.

Is the long-awaited coming of the paperless environment? And will it spur a global movement to replace the old bound tomes with digital book readers?

The concept of the paperless office has been around for decades. Think back to the original Star Trek series: there wasn’t a scrap of paper on the Enterprise. In fact, Captain Kirk would sign duty logs and reports on what appeared to be a tablet.

Since the 1980s with the arrival of the personal computer, we’ve heard about the coming of the paperless office. No more would businesspeople have to support massive physical footprints for filing cabinets and bookshelves stuffed with three-ringed binders. They would be replaced by computers, databases and, now, tablets.

An interesting thing happened on the way to the paperless office during the PC-era – printing actually increased. As the cost of laser and inkjet printing deceased, office workers increased the amount of paper documents. The number actually grew as desktop printing replaced pre-printed forms – if you needed a blank form for anything, you’d just print one out. And, in many cases, printed emails, contracts and records became a physical backup to unreliable and untrusted hard drives and storage systems.

Books, however, have proven less resilient to the digital revolution than paper records. Amazon.com, the world’s largest bookseller, says sales of digital books have already exceeded physical copies, driven in large part by the success of its Kindle digital book reader. No one knows exactly how many Kindles have been sold, but analysts estimate as many as 10 million since its release in 2007.

The Kindle isn’t the only thing driving digital book sales. Sony, Barnes and Noble, and Apple’s iPad each has a digital book reader. The increasing number of tablet computers and current generation laptops has book readers, too.

Where book readers haven’t been successful is in textbooks. The suspected reasons vary, but it could be the limited functionality of these readers stymies their utility as an education tool.

South Korea’s decision to go digital in the classroom with tablets will enable students with more than just books, but also communications, collaboration and utility applications that will spur learning and interpersonal skills. At the same time, there’s a potential for saving money as the cost of replacing rapidly obsolete textbooks will decrease in time.

Tablets are already finding their way into the workplace in increasing numbers either as personal-owned or corporate-issued. The South Korea education experiment, if successful, may extend well beyond the classroom and into the office cubical, finally doing away with the reams of paper cluttering shelves and desktops everywhere.

1 Comment
  1. Sep 19 2012

    Jews who votes for Obama and the Democrats deserve what they get. No excuses this time and no sympathy.

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