For effectiveness, devices should only supplement printed textbooks

It seems to be clear that the most effective way to use digital terminals in schools is to use printed textbooks as the fundamental materials, with digital devices used only in a supplementary fashion.

The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a survey of 500 public elementary and junior high schools regarding digital textbooks, which the government aims to fully introduce in the 2024 academic year, and it found that nearly 90% of the schools have concerns about a full transition.

Many schools are struggling to cope with terminal malfunctions and glitches, and there were also notable doubts about the effectiveness of learning.

In some cases, the start of classes was delayed because the devices would not turn on or connect to the internet, and many children were playing games or watching videos during class. It is no surprise that teachers are puzzled by how to deal with digital textbooks.

Digital terminals have the advantage of being able to use audio and video in class. They are also effective for visually impaired and non-Japanese children, as they can magnify text and indicate the phonetic readings of kanji.

It is important to be able to use digital technology. However, where is the need to add to the confusion by completely digitizing textbooks that are most frequently used in class?

In the survey, 52% of the respondents said, “Printed textbooks should be the main textbooks and digital should be supplementary,” while the opposite opinion was selected by only 14%. These responses were only natural.

Some say that if the single device provided to each student is used as a digital textbook at all times, it will be difficult to utilize search functions and audiovisual materials. It is desirable to use textbooks printed on paper as the basic textbooks and digital ones as supplementary materials to enhance the effectiveness of learning.

The government’s distribution of digital terminals to children in school was partly an economic stimulus measure in the wake of the consumption tax rate hike. The use of digital textbooks should be discussed from the perspective of how effective they are for education, but it is problematic to proceed with the shift to digital textbooks without sufficient verification of the effectiveness of the use of digital textbooks for learning.

Neuroscientists have successively published research showing that the content of digital textbooks is less likely to be retained in memory than that in printed textbooks. An analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also found that schools with more frequent computer use have lower reading comprehension scores.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is currently conducting a verification program for digital textbooks for all elementary and junior high schools, while a subcommittee of the Central Council for Education is discussing the division of roles between digital and printed textbooks.

However, the subcommittee is expected to reach a certain conclusion this summer, before the verification program is completed. It can only be said that this means there was already a conclusion from the very beginning.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 24, 2022)