Japan’s education ministry eyes use of English digital textbooks from 2024

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A student uses a tablet computer at an elementary school in Tokyo.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is considering using both digital and paper textbooks to teach English in elementary and junior high schools from the 2024 school year, it has been learned.

The ministry had originally planned to fully introduce digital textbooks from 2024, but now intends to distribute paper books for each subject and limit the use of digital textbooks to English alone. Acknowledging the view that paper textbooks serve as a strong foundation of traditional learning, the ministry has decided to initially introduce digital texts for English, because of such features as text-to-speech, among others.

The plan will be presented Thursday at a meeting of the Central Council for Education’s working group on digital textbooks, with the expectation that all elementary and junior high schools will be able to use digital textbooks for English from the 2024 school year.

This school year, the ministry made English digital textbooks available to all elementary and junior high schools as part of a pilot project. As English text-to-speech functionality allows students to listen to audio, there is a high demand in education facilities, and the ministry believes digital textbooks will enhance learning.

The ministry has adopted the Global and Innovation Gateway for All (GIGA) concept, in which elementary and junior high school students are each provided with a digital device for learning.

The ministry has concluded that the environment for the use of digital textbooks is now suitable and has targeted the 2024 school year — when new elementary school textbooks will be rolled out — as the optimum time to fully introduce digital textbooks.

While some working group members expressed hopes for the benefits of the high-tech books — such as the ability to learn through repeatedly listening to audio recordings — several others strongly emphasized the importance of paper textbooks, saying such books “are also important” and that they “should be used in combination” with digital devices.

It is possible that communication-related issues may arise following the introduction of the digital textbooks. When the ministry asked teachers — with multiple responses possible — to flag inconveniences with digital textbooks, 48.6% said, “It’s necessary to deal with screen-freezes and error messages.”

In light of such feedback, the ministry intends to maintain the use of paper textbooks while gradually expanding the use of digital textbooks.