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Friday, Aug. 13, 2010

Ministry mulls digital textbook project


Staff writer

Hoping to respond to the growing needs of working with online technology to survive a fast-changing world, the education ministry is considering launching a research project next fiscal year on using digital textbooks in schools.

Experts say, however, the ministry should thoroughly examine the influence of electronic devices on children's health and shouldn't rush to introduce the new technology.

"Fostering students' abilities to utilize information means bringing up those who can independently collect, judge, express, process, create, emit and convey necessary information," the ministry said in a draft proposal for its "Information-Oriented Vision of Education."

The ministry said it may seek funding for the project at the end of this month. The research is expected to take around three years.

"The education ministry should conduct examinations responsibly on the method of teaching each subject (with digital devices) and its effect, and how digital content should be produced," ministry official Shinichi Nakamura said.

A concrete research plan, including what kind of devices should be used and what kind of functions they should have, has yet to be determined, Nakamura said.

But he suggested the ministry would distribute information devices with content to a test group of students and teachers.

Nakamura said the ministry will need to determine whether it is necessary to study the affect of using digital textbooks on kids' health.

Meanwhile, Naoki Ogi, an education critic and pedagogy professor at Hosei University, said the kind of research the ministry intends is unprecedented in the world and suggested several brain scientists participate in it.

"This (research) will have to be conducted very carefully," Ogi said. "It would be too late after brain irregularities are detected."

Although the new technology may be convenient, Ogi said, education is fundamentally about the relationship of trust between teacher and student, as well as communication among students, and overdependence on electronic devices would hamper them.

"Humans have hearts and feelings and can't live without exchanges of them or understanding each other," Ogi said, adding that electronic education devices should be used as a secondary tool.

He said paper media shouldn't be abandoned because the smell and the sound of turning textbook pages stimulate a child's brain, which is why paper tools are different from digital devices.

Given the health concerns about mobile phones and the human brain, including the effect of electromagnetic field radiation, Ogi stressed that the government should be careful about introducing new devices into classrooms.



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