Should tablets replace textbooks in K-12 schools?
With the dawn of the internet technology, new products such as tablets, I-pads and smart phones have revolutionized all sectors of life including education. In some countries, (such as the US, Peru, India etc), tablet PCs are gaining popularity for teaching and learning at schools transforming the traditional to a blended style by combining both tradition and technology.
The traditional scenario- the use of textbooks
Traditionally, in countries where technology hasn't yet been integrated with teaching such as Saudi Arabia or other developing countries, textbooks have been used in class from Kindergarten to class 12 for each subject and are considered the sole medium of instruction for teaching and learning the syllabus.
It's a reference and a follow-up for what was learned in class as well as a reflection on their assignments. They help in revision during exams because the questions are usually based on the textbook material. And in most schools, bringing textbooks to class and maintaining them count towards participation marks and semester grades.
They serve as a teaching aid. So, teachers prepare their class notes based on the textbooks. Homework, handouts, quizzes and exams are based on the textbook material.
Henceforth, the students carry heavy bags packed with textbooks and notebooks to school. If perchance, a student has forgotten his or her textbook, he is unable to retain focus towards the teacher due to feeling embarrassed and isolated in sharing someone else's textbook while the whole class is having theirs in front of them. In the case of being absent, the student has to make up for the loss wherein he again needs the textbook to proceed with. In some cases, especially young children (Kg - class 3) students find it hard to carry their heavy bag packs. Moreover, not everyone is in a position to afford the textbooks.
Textbooks do have negative aspects as with continuous developments, information is mostly theoretical or sometimes outdated. So that brings an information gap between the students and the real world. With heavy teaching load and limited teaching resources, class instruction is limited to the textbook material with the teacher as a transmitter and a student as a receiver. Even today, in many classes, students memorize terms and concepts from the textbooks without understanding them, limiting their knowledge to their textbooks rather than practical applications.
In addition to all the above, a lot of paper gets wasted in making assignments, exams, and quizzes from the textbook.
Finally after the term or the semester is over textbooks are usually trashed or given to someone else. Rarely are they kept for future reference.
Positive aspects of replacing textbooks with tablets
They have several advantages in the classroom. Due to their small sizes and lightweight, they are portable. Hence they are replacing the textbooks. With internet connection available in schools in most countries, students avoid the hassle of carrying heavy bag packs of textbooks for each subject. Rather they carry their tablet PCs with all textbooks electronically stored on them that can be used in class easily.
Some tablets have a stylus pen with them allowing the student or the teacher to write using digital ink. So if a student has forgotten his or her textbook or pen, there is no hassle in using the tablet. Just one click brings it all. They can take notes on their textbooks using the stylus. If there is something they can't understand in class, they can quickly look it up on Google. Textbook pages can be searched quickly or bookmarked for reference later. All previous homework, sample papers, quizzes, and exams can be downloaded and stored on their tablet PCs. They can even record the lecture and listen to it again after school hours. All language learning activities and academic assignments can be done efficiently on the tablet using inbuilt apps or apps from Google Play store.
Also, they are eco-friendly, as it makes the system paperless, saving paper and trees.
Teachers can assign pre-class assignments from the textbook and the internet along with electronic homework that students can do during their break hours or even at parks or malls. Notes and practical examples from real-life can be easily taught via the tablet PC enhancing textbook comprehension.
Finally, textbooks can be stored for an indefinite amount of time on Google drive using tablet PCs.
The negative aspects of replacing textbooks with tablets
Management and control are the main problems with using the tablets as textbooks in the classroom. It adds an extra responsibility for the teacher to ensure everyone is just using his or her textbook and not abusing the internet by chatting/ surfing etc. So, the teacher has to focus more on the students' supervision than reception while using the tablet. Notes can be exchanged between students without any efforts done causing it to become a one-man show, where one takes notes and the rest sit and play games on the internet. Whereas using the hardcopy textbook, every individual student is responsible for taking notes to understand the lesson. With technology comes the connectivity issue. Sometimes the network has glitches and technical errors. So, the teacher can't access online textbook LMS materials or exercises to teach the students in class.
In many remote areas, where there are no adequate facilities such as electricity, the internet etc. So, a tablet PC might not work in such circumstances.
Tablet PCs might not be the best option for Kg- class 5 students because firstly they must be taught how to use it. Also teachers might not know how to use and troubleshoot tablets. That would cause unnecessary interruption in the learning process.
As tablets themselves are expensive, every school might not be able to buy them and train their staff on how to use them. Secondly, they're expensive and so not everyone can afford it. Thirdly, students in these classes are not responsible enough to carry a tablet PC or to maintain it properly. If any hardware damage occurs, the child can't be blamed for it.
Also, if young students are taught just to focus on tablets rather than textbooks, it would adversely affect their handwriting because it changes with each stage from Kg -5. So by using paperback textbooks, they get 5 basic years of practice in handwriting which otherwise would be affected if the tablet is used instead. Also for further years from class 6- class 12, if the textbooks are removed, then it would leave no room for further handwriting development.
A proper solution
A balanced approach would be required to combine the use of textbook and the tablet PCs together to achieve effective learning and teaching targets as both are important and have their own spheres of development in the academic life of a student.