Sun | Jan 17, 2021

Not so fast! - Industry players warn Gov’t to go slow in rolling out e-book learning in schools

Published:Monday | August 24, 2020 | 12:47 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Some parents disagreed with the use of e-book because they fear students will use their devices to entertain themselves, while others believe that it is a step in the right direction for educational purposes.
Some parents disagreed with the use of e-book because they fear students will use their devices to entertain themselves, while others believe that it is a step in the right direction for educational purposes.

Due to issues related to students accessing electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones, book industry players have warned the Government to avoid rushing plans to roll out e-book learning in schools.

Chairman of the Book Industry Association of Jamaica, Latoya West Blackwood, told The Gleaner that a transition to e-books for primary and high school students wouldn’t have a negative economic impact on the industry, but said more review was necessary to ensure that there are no gaps in learning.

She pointed out that a vast number of children do not own tablets or other electronic devices, and those who do often have connectivity problems.

“A large percentage of students are still facing challenges with our two main service providers. We have seen the impact, especially during the COVID-19 period, and it is not going to magically resolve in the coming months. Some of our members have been supporting students in terms of donations, but even with that, several students are still without, particularly in rural Jamaica,” she pointed out.

West Blackwood suggested that the Ministry of Education consider proposals the association has made, that could enable a smooth transition.

“They supplied us with a draft policy on e-books in terms of their intent to roll them out. We had some queries about the draft policy, but we are yet to receive a response from the ministry.

“Our general stance as an industry is that we believe in preparing our young children for not just the future but the present. There is also the whole matter of accessibility. A lot of our children are still tactile learners. They need that physical element to retain information, but in terms of operating in a modern global environment, of course we support a digital transition,” she told The Gleaner, sharing that a virtual town hall meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, to facilitate discussions on the matter.

Senior sales representative at Bryan’s Book Store in Kingston, Leonard Bennett, poured cold water on the plans, alluding to the economic strain parents have been experiencing due to COVID-19.

He stated that the island is not yet ready for e-book learning.

“In some rural communities the Internet isn’t available. People are still not 100 per cent on their feet. As part of the book industry, I have seen tablets on even kindergarten book lists. When a student sees a tablet, him nah focus pon nothing ‘bout school pon it. When you have a hard copy and guide them along the way with the book itself, you can monitor them better through the book,” he said.

High school educator and parent of a primary school student, Sherine Spence, put forward a string of issues that may arise due to a rushed transition. She is of the opinion that students do not like to read, and with various sources of distraction on tablets, without proper monitoring, outcomes can be negative.

“I have proven over time that it doesn’t encourage further reading. Students do not read, especially when they are easily distracted on devices. In terms of their read aloud and interacting skills, tablet reading does not encourage that. Yes, they can look up new words quicker, but I find that they generally don’t use that aspect of it.

“As a teacher, it requires more work from me to direct them to these access points. We also have to think about how students will react to getting different tablets. Do I have an Apple tablet, or do I have only my phone to read from? Then you get into the personal part of it now. Can my parents afford the device that everybody else is using? That becomes an emotional problem on the student,” Spence said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com