I’m writing this at the end of a two-week author visit to Japan and Korea that has seen me do seventeen presentations of one kind or another.
I started with a speech that no one could hear at the rather raucous OUP party at the JALT conference in Hamamatsu, Japan, and finished with a drama workshop for some students from Korea Christian University, in what they tell me is a haunted house hidden in a wood on the outskirts of Seoul.
The highlight, for me at least, was my ‘Glad To Be Grey’ Pecha Kucha at KOTESOL, even though my attempt to interest the audience in a Gangnam Style dance routine was an utter failure.
Before I came to Korea this time, I read that the Korean government wants education to be paper-free by 2015. They plan to spend $2.4 billion to buy a tablet for every student and digitize the curriculum content across all subjects. It will be introduced in elementary schools in 2014 and across the entire education system the following year. A totally book-free and paper-free system.
The tablets will probably be provided by Korean electronics manufacturer Samsung, but no one is sure about that. And with an election coming up this December, this could of course all change.
But what I found rather surprising was that hardly any of the university teachers I spoke to, almost all native speakers, had heard anything about this. One who had heard about it, an American in his forties, said: ‘It’s just for middle school, not us.’
I fear he may be wrong.
I’m really not the best person to comment on the value of digital-only education, partly because I have no idea of the relative value of books, no books or a blended system, and partly of course because I write books.
I love the classroom possibilities that new technology brings, and I’m aware of the massive impact phones, tablets or whatever can have on the ability of students to continue their studies outside the classroom in a manner they feel comfortable with.
But completely book and paper-free?
The fact is that Korea is not the only country which has looked at this possibility – Spain and Malaysia have also been talking about it, and when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California, he wanted to introduce it there. One of the reasons he quoted at the time was the large number of law suits brought against Californian schools because of supposed back injuries suffered by children who had to carry too many books to school. Um, yee-es…
In all cases, the governments are driven by a desire to reduce the amount of money they spend on education as much as any belief that paper-free is a positive educational reform.
But I have always had a nagging doubt about the move to paper-free. I attended a talk by Brendan Wightman at a conference in Turkey earlier this year, and I thought he articulated the problem quite clearly.
Brendan pointed out that if a government gives out, say, 300,000 free tablets, you can be sure that every year some of them will be stolen, lost or damaged in some way. Let’s say a conservative estimate of 2%. That’s 6,000 tablets.
Will the government have a cupboard full of spare tablets for people who lose the one they were given? Just a thought.
Here’s a totally gratuitous photograph of my one-year-old grandson Maurice.
Well, not QUITE totally gratuitous.
His mother, my daughter Anya, took the photo with her iPhone after she’d retrieved it from the toilet where Maurice had dropped it. He had picked up the phone and quite deliberately chucked it down the hopper, as my grandmother-in-law Gladys would have said.
Here’s a thought – how many kids will turn up at school with a damaged tablet and blame their little brothers and sisters for the damage?
Actually, I’m reminded that Anya had a similar problem with some school material when she was at secondary school. She had a tough little budgie called Minty who walked along the bookshelf in her room, picked up one of her exercise books in his beak, took two steps along the shelf and deposited it in a fish tank.
The book survived, but the exercise material that Anya had carefully written with a ballpoint pen was unreadable. Not surprisingly, her teacher was a little sceptical that a budgie was responsible.
But imagine if it’s your tablet that finishes up in the fish tank.
If anyone has any inside knowledge about Plan B for damaged tablets, I’d be really interested to hear.
And finally, the best pop culture discovery of this visit – King of K-pop Psy and his Gangnam Style video, the Youtube sensation of the decade. This boy can teach us all about how to work an audience.