updated 11 Sep 2011, 11:05
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Mon, Jul 11, 2011
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Packed your iPad for school?
by Clara Chow

SOUTH Korea recently announced that it was doing away with textbooks, in favour of digital versions, by 2015.

Coming from the land of Samsung and LG - think of all the smartphones, tablet PCs and Internet refrigerators made under those brands - this is hardly surprising. And the substantial price tag of 2.2 trillion won (S$2.5 billion) for this is, in my book, money well spent.

Our Asian neighbour's move should spur Singapore on further in its efforts to make its schools and education process as high-tech as possible.

At the moment, selected schools here are on their way to becoming "FutureSchools".

In these schools, information technology is used to create a learning environment with fewer boundaries and more possibilities. For instance, instant messaging and video sharing may mean that students can collaborate on projects with their peers abroad; online assessments may help working parents keep better tabs on their kids' work and progress in real time; and pupils may go on scientific fieldtrips toting iPads for a more interesting lesson.

By 2015, according to previous reports, there will be 15 FutureSchools, and at least 20 per cent of the curriculum in schools here will be taught using such technology. At least $80 million in public funds have been spent towards making this become a reality.

As a tertiary student, doing a part-time master's degree at the National University of Singapore, I have marvelled at how far education has come since the days I was a pencil-chewing student in pigtails.

Almost every student I see walking around campus has a laptop, thanks to a discounted laptop-purchase scheme at the university. Course outlines and materials are uploaded online, and it is the student's responsibility to download or print out his own lecture notes before he attends classes.

During e-learning week, once a semester, we log on to the school's network at our convenience, to have lectures streamed as multimedia into our homes - before continuing the discussion on an official online forum.

The electronic and communication resources have made learning and research so much faster and easier for me.

And I cannot help but wonder what primary- and secondary-school students can do, with the same assets at their disposal.

Besides the obvious headstart in IT training that this will give them, a digitally supported classroom also hones life skills. These include responsibility (no more lousy excuses about the dog eating your homework or losing your workbook), organisation and initiative (all class material can be made available way in advance for those who want to read up beforehand or learn at their own pace), manners (e-mail and forum etiquette) and presentation (PowerPoint slides beat construction paper).

High-tech classrooms have their critics, of course. The Korea Herald newspaper reported sceptics of the country's digital- textbook scheme saying that, without any change to the cut-throat, competitive university admission scheme, there will be no meaningful change in the education system.

Even before this, in May this year, the CNN website carried a piece on whether school-funded technology, used to track students' schedules and assignments online, is stressing "helicopter parents" out more than they are helping children. "Do schools share too much with parents?" was the headline.

And, I admit, a frivolous thought has entered my head: How to police the kids so that they don't play games or surf the Web in class, when they should be listening to their teacher. But that is a small price to pay for big knowledge dividends.

As the mother of a five-year-old who is due to enter Primary 1 in the year 2013 (and who lives right next to a FutureSchool), I am following these developments in the educational world keenly. Hopefully, Singapore will consider adopting an island-wide scheme like South Korea's, in an age when iPhones and iPads are ubiquitous and relatively affordable here.

It is worth investing more to make all schools here FutureSchools - not far in the future.

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readers' comments
Remove technology and you will see how 'skillfull' these kids are.
Posted by xradeonx on Fri, 15 Jul 2011 at 14:19 PM
This mother of a 5yo kid is really really getting too much into IT..... :p

If students are overly dependent on IT.... they will most like end up copycats that only know how to search the web for "copy n paste"..... :D
Posted by Small Fly on Fri, 15 Jul 2011 at 13:13 PM
Who said iPhone and iPad are cheap? You certainly lived in your own world. There are parents who can't even afford a decent set of desktop or laptop with printers for their children. Poor children are being made to return to school to use the system or made to do volunteer work to clock hours for their sponsored PC. IT should be clocked in school meaning school having it and parents not made to pay extra just to get the set if not kids can't study. Are we going tongive up on handwriting too just because we are all typing? Aiyo
Posted by mystrawberry on Wed, 13 Jul 2011 at 18:11 PM

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