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Education Technology

South African Schools To Go Textbook Free 76

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-more-pencils-no-more-books dept.
An anonymous reader writes "South African education authorities are about to embark on an ambitious plan to take their schools textbook free, using the familiar refrain of one-tablet-per-child to do so. The education minister in Gauteng (the province which covers Johannesburg and Pretoria) has announced a plan to model new schools in the area on Sunward Park, a government school which went all-digital at the start of 2012. Other schools in the state will then follow, along with a plan to extend the project nationally."
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South African Schools To Go Textbook Free

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2014 @04:40PM (#47197945)

    South Africa, welcome to ridiculously marked up pdfs of textbooks, no way to "sell back" or "buy used," and licensing/broken device issues. Enjoy!

    • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Monday June 09, 2014 @04:49PM (#47198017)

      Agreed, I think this is less a sign of progress and more a sign of texbook publishers cracking down on used books. School districts will initially think they're getting a great deal, until they realize that all the textbooks they thought they had "bought" will disappear the second they stop making their monthly licensing payments.

      • by turkeyfish (950384) on Monday June 09, 2014 @10:01PM (#47199763)

        Actually in South Africa it is far worse than that. The government can't even get the textbooks it has already purchased to students. Tens of thousands of textbooks were lost in warehouses, were rain and wind destroyed many before they were even delivered and as it turns out audits showed that huge discrepancies in what was paid for and what was delivered.

        For South Africa going "all digital" is more likely another opportunity for an increasingly corrupt ruling party to steal even more money from the existing system, which is bordering on collapse. Teachers aren't being paid, many school buildings don't have windows or desks, or even walls. To be sure that this is some kind of bad joke, its no secret that the country's electrical supply system is so spotty that it can't keep the lights on in most major cities, without constant power failures even for the homes of the wealthy, much less schools without electricity. Coupled with mounting evidence that computers can actually retard learning and you have the makings of another incredible mess, not to mention much missed opportunity for South African students.

        • Wow. Way to go in trashing our country.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            But that is the truth. Schools also need barbed wire fencing, security guards, .........
            Your laptop, cellphone or device will be jacked before you know it

        • by fezzzz (1774514)
          About 50% true. A lot of corruption in the procurement of text books happened in 2013. The delivery of text books in 2014 was actually much more efficient.

          The electricity is in short supply due to an increase in demand, but many power stations are being brought online with the largest dry-cooled power station in the world (Medupi) expected to come on-line in 2014.

          The private sector did a stellar job bringing wind and solar energy to the grid with 37 turbines near Hopefield, 30 in Caledon, a large
    • by dak664 (1992350)

      As always, there is plenty of free and superior course material. The real graft is at whatever level can issue the mandate that the latest and priciest must be used. Nothing but the best for our children, etc.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Much of SA seems already to be textbook-free, since the money which was intended for textbooks seems to have disappeared, while the textbooks seem not to have appeared. It's a long-running scandal of the current government.

      • by riT-k0MA (1653217)
        That's because an un[der]educated person is easier to control; easier to brainwash into voting ANC. Cry our beloved country...
    • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday June 09, 2014 @05:26PM (#47198273)

      South Africa, welcome to ridiculously marked up pdfs of textbooks, no way to "sell back" or "buy used," and licensing/broken device issues. Enjoy!

      What "sell back" or "buy used"? K-12 schools seem to buy books and use them year after year until they disintegrate, well at least that was my experience.

      The K-12 book market is very different than the college book market.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      It means huge amounts of government money and subsidies to buy these laptops and tablets, and many third party suppliers and publishers to negotiate with. The sheer amount of bribery and kickback opportunities is probably what drives this.

      "I'll contribute to your compaign if you make our competitors illegal..."

    • by NoKaOi (1415755)

      welcome to ridiculously marked up pdfs of textbooks

      From the article about Sunward Park:

      “Parents were already spending an average of R1 800 on textbooks every year anyway,” explains Thango, “We were able to sell two different tablets at the start, a seven inch one for R1 000 and a 10inch one for R2 000. Most of our textbooks come from MacMillan or Pearsons, and we were able to negotiate a big discount on three year licences for ebook versions, so it only costs R300 per learner per year.”

      So, if the tablet only lasts 1 year and they get the 7-inch, they save R300 (US$28). If they have it for 4 years, they save R5000 (US$470)if they get the 7-inch or R4000 (US$375) if they get the 10-inch.

      This also gives them the opportunity to evolve into not using e-books, perhaps at least for some classes. My daughter went to a charter school for middle school that doesn't use textbooks. They didn't get tablets but their classrooms had computers, and they had to have

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday June 09, 2014 @04:57PM (#47198097) Homepage
    I am not surprised to hear such a move being made in Gauteng, one of the country's wealthiest states and fairly decently managed by South African standards. However, South Africa is a country of enormous contrasts, and other parts of the country have abysmal schooling -- before whizbang technological solutions, simply improving teacher qualifications and cutting down on absenteeism would be necessary.
  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday June 09, 2014 @05:01PM (#47198117) Homepage
    I grew up in Canada, and I don't recall having textbooks at all until high school, and even then, they were limited. Lots of textbooks in university of course. Personally, I never really saw much value in text books. They tend to contain a lot of material not covered in the course, and also missed out on some material that was covered in the course. The best "text books" I ever had were from professors who provided us with about 100-200 pages of course notes which were just printed off by the university printing department, on large photocopiers. Way cheaper than text books. Way lighter than text books, and contained exactly the material they needed to contain for the course.
    • by Agares (1890982)
      This makes me think of how much fluff most "text books" have in them. The way we learn in our day and age I think is terribly inefficient.
      • by jetkust (596906)
        Textbook companies think the internet is terribly inefficient, and not expensive enough.
        • by Agares (1890982)
          I understand that they need to make money, but as I'm sure you're aware they gouge like crazy.
      • by perpenso (1613749)
        In the 90s I was visiting an uncle and we were chatting while he was doing something in the garage. I noticed some old books and checked them out, they were his university textbooks from the mid 50s. I was surprised at how small his freshman calculus text was compared to mine. It was very concise and it did not contain all the fluffy graphics and sidebars. Just necessary graphs and charts and illustrations to supplement the core lessons. Occasionally there was a paragraph or two demonstrating a practical ap
        • by symbolset (646467) *
          Compare a chemistry textbook. It is a wonder old high school chemistry texts aren't classified WMD.
        • by tomhath (637240)
          Best calculus book ever was Calculus Made Easy [gutenberg.org]. It really makes the subject as clear as possible. Everything since is filler.
          • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday June 09, 2014 @06:14PM (#47198521)

            Best calculus book ever was Calculus Made Easy [gutenberg.org]. It really makes the subject as clear as possible. Everything since is filler.

            "Thus [integral symbol] dx means the sum of all the little bits of x; or [integral symbol] dt means the sum of all the little bits of t. Ordinary mathematicians call this symbol “the integral of.” Now any fool can see that if x is considered as made up of a lot of little bits, each of which is called dx, if you add them all up together you get the sum of all the dx’s, (which is the same thing as the whole of x). The word “integral” simply means “the whole.”"

            I may have to revise my earlier statement that a good freshman calculus text can last decades. This book may demonstrate that one can last over a century (1910 publication date).

            Thanks.

          • by j-beda (85386)

            Best calculus book ever was Calculus Made Easy [gutenberg.org]. It really makes the subject as clear as possible. Everything since is filler.

            That does look like a great text. 2nd edition in 1914!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Feynman wrote about it once, when he was asked to review textbooks for children:

        http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm

    • by PRMan (959735)

      We had textbooks growing up in junior high and high school. The math ones were generally excellent. The English were pretty good at exposing you to a wide variety of documents from a wide range of popular sources (everything from the Bible to Shakespeare to Robert Frost and ee cummings to Mark Twain and The Twilight Zone and everything in between).

      The history textbooks were poor, giving a complete oversimplification of everything and completely devoid of the religious underpinnings of most of medieval Eur

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Most things in highschool are oversimplifications of the subject matter. There's no practical way around it, because you can't learn the advanced stuff until you learn the basics. Some people have something similar to the "little lie" (Pratchett) where you tell the untruth to prepare someone for something later (the truth, or a bigger lie). As in electrons orbiting a nucleus, a lie of course, but it helps the student learn the science and be prepared for the later idea that electrons aren't little balls

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Even if they only covered stuff that was already covered in the classroom, that's useful. Not every student is able to retain all that information and maintain full concentration. Typically nobody took class notes until college when I grew up, except to write down the homework assignments.

    • by tomhath (637240)

      The best "text books" I ever had were from professors who provided us with about 100-200 pages of course notes

      The only point I ever saw in textbooks were the homework problems. It saves the instructor the trouble of coming up with good practice problems and the Teacher's Manual gives them the answers so they can grade the homework.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Monday June 09, 2014 @05:17PM (#47198203)

    I don't know what the practice in South Africa is, but in the U.S., most public school textbooks are provided by the school. Students can't take notes in them or highlight them. That's still the major advantage for me for paper books: they're easier to annotate quickly and informally (particularly on a tablet). But if you can't do that, why do you need the paper book?

    Textbooks from the past couple decades are ridiculously heavy, loading with unnecessary illustrations and other bulk which seem to be there simply for eye-candy for textbook adopting boards. (Completely unnecessary in an internet age when a teacher can project photos of just about anything up as necessary.) But this is beside the point.

    I've seen many middle-school kids lugging around backpacks that weigh almost as much as they do. Is that really necessary?

    With a tablet, it's not necessary anymore. Textbooks can be filled with not only illustrations but audio and video examples or animations, if needed. And that's not even exploring the possibility for new types of interactivity.

    As I'm sure many will point out here, the concern is probably about licensing fees, which will probably require an annual fee to keep using textbooks. So, in the long-term, we need to move toward adoption of more free textbooks (or textbooks that can be simply downloaded, without requiring licensing), many of which already exist online. Heck, for many subjects (primary and secondary math, grammar, etc.), public domain PDF textbooks from 100 years ago would cover almost the same material, saving a lot of money to be spent toward, say, actual interactive apps that teach in innovative ways, along with the few concepts left out of the old textbooks.

    • Physical Textbooks have one advantage that will never be replicated with digital ones:

      Spatial Memory [wikipedia.org]

      When I an open a textbook 3/4 of the way through I can use that fact as a mnemonic to help me remember "where" in the book the information is. With a digital "bookmark" I have no clue if I'm 25%, 50%, or 75% through. I am forced to rely on a working Search for the digital book.

      I also like the fact that I can highlight my books. If students are unable to do that that is a hinderance to their learning.

      Phys

    • I've seen many middle-school kids lugging around backpacks that weigh almost as much as they do. Is that really necessary?

      Yes, it is. It's called exercise. And after completely destroying physical education, to protect fat kids from being heckled, it's the last bit of exercise kids get nowadays.

      So go on ahead, take this away, too.

      • Yes, it is. It's called exercise. And after completely destroying physical education, to protect fat kids from being heckled, it's the last bit of exercise kids get nowadays.

        I knew when I wrote that line that it would bring at least one of you guys out to comment.

        Look -- I completely and utterly agree with you that kids don't get enough exercise. There are all sorts of causes for this.

        But the solution is not to force them to lug a large mass of stuff around in an unergonomic way while their bodies are still growing. There are all sorts of problems [nytimes.com] with this. (And sure, it is possible for kids to get reasonably designed backpacks that distribute the weight well, but even

        • I'm all for having mandatory physical education or mandatory sports or whatever for kids

          I don't like sports. I don't need to be taught how to do pushups or situps; I can learn that in five seconds. If you want to learn how to play a sport, voluntarily sign up for PE or learn to do it yourself. Educational institutions should be about bettering people's understanding of the universe around them, not about making them exercise. Don't waste my time with this junk, which one will never use if they leave school or after they graduate unless they really care.

          This "I think it's a good idea, so it sho

        • I remember carrying tons of textbooks home and now I have traps of steel. Thank you American public school system.
    • by csumpi (2258986)

      exploring the possibility for new types of interactivity

      You mean candy crushing?

      .

    • Students don't own the textbooks in a lot of schools, they're returned to the school at the end of the year. Writing in it is a quick way to end up with the student paying for the book.
  • The only reason we used textbooks in the first place was because the internet wasn't invented.
  • There is a huge difference. Are they going with opensource textbooks and whatnot, or are they merely paying the textbook companies massive amounts of money for even less?

    So far in the 23 years of schooling that my two daughters have attended there is a grand total of 1 textbook that came close to impressing me. Overall the textbook mostly sucked but its approach was refreshingly good and I suspect would have a very high long term retention rate.

    At the same time I could make a fairly good list of some ex
    • Are they going with opensource textbooks ...

      Maybe not a lot of them at the moment, but a textbook only needs to be written once, 'published' for free and it can be used by everyone for ever afterwards. OK: not quite so simple since they will need to be updated for changing curriculum needs (especially things that change like the sciences) and will need to be translated into different languages. But an e-textbook done properly & you can do so many things that paper cannot: links to videos, links to stuff on the net, good searching, student annotat

    • Hi - there's no confirmed syllabus yet, but the school they're modelling on has (imo) a really good system. The learning portal has been put together by a third party and aggregates a load of free resources like Khan Academy, BBC learning, Works of Shakespeare, Moodle etc with the proprietary course books required for South African syllabus. The price is really key - in many government schools, pupils are expected to buy their own textbooks - a tablet + licences for the requried texts works out a bit cheap
  • I wish countries would use public money to produce some ebooks for their schools. They could distribute it free as an epub file and there would be no royalties or copyright to care about, no heavy schoolbags, or parents / schools who have to buy them. Just some epubs on the end of a link, free to download and use on any tablet or ereader that supports the format.

    It seems beyond bizarre that countries are able to specify in exacting detail what content books should contain and are able to write examination

    • by j-beda (85386)

      I wish countries would use public money to produce some ebooks for their schools. They could distribute it free as an epub file and there would be no royalties or copyright to care about, no heavy schoolbags, or parents / schools who have to buy them. Just some epubs on the end of a link, free to download and use on any tablet or ereader that supports the format.

      It seems beyond bizarre that countries are able to specify in exacting detail what content books should contain and are able to write examination papers that test those subjects but they outsource the actual production (and copyright) of textbooks to somebody else.

      Hear, hear! (or is that "Here, here!", or maybe "Hear, here!". Certainly not "Here, hear!", yes?)

  • They should be going in for free textbooks, not textbooks free.
  • SA has lot's of rolling blackouts.

    So it's an poor choice without lots battery's and back up power systems.

    • The MEC did address this (I didn't mention it in the article) and said that they'd make sure all schools that get the new tech have backup generators.
  • ...but look at what happened in Australia (where im posting from). Laptops were provided, but there was no real support. Not all the teachers knew how to use them or fix any errors that occurred - training was an issue. And unless they have control over what textbooks are being provided, as others have said, it doesnt really save any money. Source - my sister went through this in the Australian high school system about 5 years ago. I see they have a pilot school that did the change 2 years ago, so maybe th

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