Limit digital textbooks to taking advantage of video, audio functions

Digital devices have aspects that are beneficial for learning and aspects that are not beneficial. It is important to clearly determine the appropriateness of these features and devise ways to utilize them.

On Feb. 7, the first meeting was held of a special committee — part of the education ministry’s Central Council for Education — tasked with discussing the ideal form of school education amid the advance of digitization in society. The special committee intends to reach certain conclusions by around this summer, after repeated discussions on topics including teaching methods and materials that utilize digital devices.

The education ministry’s GIGA (Global and Innovation Gateway for All) School Program, under which digital devices are distributed to each elementary and junior high school student nationwide, was implemented ahead of the initial schedule due to long-term school closures resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic, and students have already begun to use these devices at school.

However, many issues remain to be tackled, including establishing a communications environment and improving and expanding training sessions for the teachers handling the devices. It is vital to draw on expert knowledge and discuss these matters sufficiently.

There are reports from overseas that children who have been provided with digital devices spent more time just enjoying games and videos, which cannot produce sufficient learning benefits. It has also been said that children instantly searched for answers, without trying to solve problems by themselves.

In elementary schools in Japan as well, the problem has emerged of children being absorbed in games during breaks between classes, and not playing outside. How to deal with such issues is important.

The case in which a sixth-grade elementary school student in Machida, Tokyo, took her own life after leaving a suicide note saying she had been bullied must be taken seriously. This is because there are concerns that the chat function on digital devices encouraged the bullying. It is vital to clarify the cause of the incident and take thorough steps to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

At the special committee meeting, it was also decided to set up a working panel to discuss digital textbooks that the education ministry aims to fully introduce in the 2024 school year.

Digital devices have an advantage in that students can use their video and audio functions to effectively study such things as solid figures in mathematics, science experiments and English pronunciation. However, in recent years, there has been a spate of reports by neurological and other scientists in Japan and abroad stating that it is harder to memorize lesson content from digital devices than from printed materials.

Such actions as turning pages, highlighting important parts with a pen and writing in notebooks are essential for memorization and deep understanding. Making learning excessively effective through digitization could have an adverse effect on learning.

Printed textbooks should be used as the foundation, and digital textbooks should be limited to supplementary materials, taking advantage of their video and audio functions.

In his latest policy speech at the current Diet session, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida touted the promotion of digitization, including the GIGA School Program. It must be remembered that what is important is not distributing devices to children, but whether those devices are really in students’ best interest.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 8, 2022.