Goodbye textbooks, hello world!

Yesterday, I came across a very curious bit of news – California has announced a ban on textbooks in schools. One of the reasons for such a radical move was to save money for the state exchequer, as textbooks were too expensive and that California spent $350 million on textbooks that it could no longer afford.

I dare say, if I were to meet Mr. Schwarzenegger, I would tell him that the $350 million that he hopes his government will save, would not result in a radical change in the financial situation of the State of California.

Nevertheless, a seed had been planted in my mind; and when that happens, additional information on the subject does come my way, without me necessarily actively seeking it. So I was not surprised when I discovered soon thereafter that the State of Virginia had decided to go with some open source online textbooks in its schools.

Hmm… it was now time for me to find out how wide and how deep this trend actually was – and I decided to actively seek out further information. I have been acutely aware of the differences in reading styles between GenNext (who can’t seem to read from a traditional book) and myself (belonging to the antiquated GenX and who cannot read anything but text on a piece of paper). Within this context, I mulled over another discovery that Barrett, the Honors College (in Arizona State) had proposed the use of the Kindle DX (a wireless electronic reading device from Amazon) to be used in a pilot group study and that the roster for the study group was filled up at an extraordinary speed and as soon as the students came to know of the use of the device in the class.

UK also seems to have made significant progress (probably in the last 10 years) towards a paperless classroom with an estimated 20% of the learning resources in primary and secondary schools being purely in digital form. Further, it has been estimated that in the next 10 years, this figure will reach 40%… interesting statistics to say the least. Casual discussions with teachers and educationists also revealed that many schools around the world had moved away from using textbooks in primary grades.

While these trends do not in any way suggest that paper based textbook has outlived its usefulness and it will soon come die a natural death; it does clearly lay down the path that teaching-learning methodologies / philosophies and aides are taking. Such trends are less noticeable in developing countries like India, where digital penetration is low and the digital divide is quite significant. However, the sizable Indian middleclass and the affluent do have the option and the opportunity of taking the same route their cousins in developed countries are taking.

This brings me to another discussion that I had with friends a few weeks ago, where my opinion on the topic was the minority opinion of “one”. At that time, I had raised the possibility that, we may in the future see a world, where children may not necessarily have to enrol into a school for their learning and technology would enable the learner to attend any school of his/her choice and study from a teacher of his/her preference. In this argument, I was opposed by my friends and colleagues; on the basis that a child needs a teacher and peer interaction that a school provides, for his/her overall development. I do not disagree with these needs of children, but contend that, in the world where children choose their environment of study separate from the four walls of what we today call a school, these needs of children would be addressed in another social setting.

Are there any takers out there who would agree with me on this discussion?

I have a recollection of someone telling me some time ago that education needs to be rescued from the 2, 4, 5 of the current system (2 covers of the textbook, 4 walls of a school and 5 days a week). Developments in some quarters suggest that we may have made some headway towards this direction, but the practice is far from pervasive. However, recent and emerging trends clearly show the direction in which education is headed.

1 Comment

  1. love your last two blog entries, and largely agree with the benefits afforded to children by a differentiated digital environment. I think that you are correct in suggesting that the social interaction is in part about perception, where we need to understand the limit of our current definition of peer relationships, however, I also think that learning does not have to be exclusive to a digital or classroom form. Let me back up… In reading a number of blogs on the topic, I get the feeling that some folks haven't yet drawn up a blueprint for how a child's full day looks in this future learning environment.

    Does the kid still go to a physical school?
    Is the work all done from home?
    Do we centrally monitor students performance?
    Do we still hire teachers as new tutors, or do we now only need administrators?
    Is the content monitored or accredited, or is everything open source and qualified?
    At what age levels do we add different levels of oversight and accountability?
    What about physical education/sports?
    What do we do with kids who have different levels of access to technology? And so on…

    I think at least some of these questions are consequential in orienting our discussion on technology. They also may have a lot to say with regard to which level of technology we are referring to. If these are 1.0 technologies, then we are talking largely about resource access and aggregation mobilized in the old traditional model. This still can be transformative, particularly for publishing companies, but is not revolutionary. If these are 2.0 technologies, then we are talking about collaboration that still remains largely teacher centric. New ideas flow which will lead to new innovations. 3.0 technologies are where we get really excited, in that the technology has now changed the model. Here were have the 2-4-5 mentality really falling apart, and online or computer-based adaptive learning software generating content that is directed at specific intelligences and learning styles. Here we the online app stores and menu's of classes for students to choose from ala Clayton Christensen's "Disrupting Class." So I guess what I am looking for is the picture. What does a 5yr old do from when she wakes up at 7a until 9p at night? What about for a 10yr old, a 15yr old, an 18yr old? How do the last two blogs of yours, two amazing movements, give us that differentiated, integrated, open-source, and perfectly aligned day?

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