Digital English textbooks will be introduced in 2024, effectiveness unknown

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
A digital English textbook that is now being used for an English class at Daiichi Nippori Elementary School in Tokyo’s Arakawa district is seen on August 24.

The Ministry of Education has decided to fully introduce digital English textbooks in primary and secondary schools from the 2024 school year.

While it may also adopt digital textbooks for mathematics in the 2025 school year or later, the full introduction of digital textbooks once envisioned for 2024 will only be achieved for English in that year. digital textbooks to be used in combination with paper textbooks.

Doubts about the pedagogical effectiveness and health effects of digital textbooks not having been removed, the introduction of digital textbooks must be limited at first.

“It is helpful for students to be able to listen to native speakers’ pronunciation at their own pace.”

That’s what a sixth-grade teacher at Daiichi Nippori Elementary School in Tokyo’s Arakawa ward said when asked what she thought after using a digital English textbook. .

When students touch the screen with their finger or a stylus, they can hear the text read aloud.

Students can now listen to accurate pronunciations as many times as they want and learn at their own level of understanding, instead of learning the same content together while looking at a blackboard or textbook.

The screens of the digital manuals display the same content as the paper manuals. But they also have functions such as magnification and kana reading of kanji. Sentences can also be read aloud, which is beneficial for students with disabilities and those for whom Japanese is a second language.

On August 25, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology developed a proposal for the gradual introduction of digital textbooks, starting with English-language textbooks, which was approved by a working group of the Central Board of Education. The ministry will consider introducing digital textbooks for mathematics in the 2025 school year or later, as they facilitate the drawing of figures and graphs. The plan is to use a digital version in combination with paper textbooks for these subjects as well.

Digital balance, paper

The ministry presented a proposal the same day, stating that “an environment is needed in which digital and paper textbooks are available”. The ministry continues to place importance on paper textbooks.

In a ministry-led experiment, involving approximately 40% of primary and secondary schools in the 2021 school year, middle and upper elementary school students and junior high school students were asked about the ease use of digital and paper textbooks. .

For digital textbooks, the most common responses were ‘easy to gather various types of information’ and ‘easy to consult diagrams and pictures’. For paper textbooks, they were “easy to write” and “easy to save what we learned.”

A study by Professor Hirohito Shibata of Gunma University, who specializes in cognitive science and has conducted comparative research on the difference between paper textbooks and digital terminals, found that using paper textbooks was more effective than digital textbooks in activities such as going back and forth between pages, “comparing materials” and “finding answers in textbooks”.

When participants in an experiment were asked to find discrepancies between multiple documents, they did so 26% faster when using paper manuals than when using personal computers, and they were 11% more likely to find discrepancies. When searching for a specific photo in a photo album, they were 30% faster when using paper manuals than when using tablets.

“It’s too early for students to use only digital textbooks,” Shibata said. “Both paper and digital textbooks should be used depending on their characteristics.”

Issues and bugs

Even when used in combination with paper textbooks, digital textbooks still have problems.

The ministry expects the introduction of digital textbooks to improve students’ academic performance, but so far there have been no clear results showing that digital textbooks are superior to paper in this regard.

Some studies even suggest that digital textbooks may lead to lower academic achievement. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) analyzed the results of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) 2012 and found that schools that used computers often had reading comprehension scores below those who did not use it.

There are also concerns about the impact on student health. According to a ministry survey on the 2021 exercise demonstration project, 20% to 40% of students felt pain or fatigue in their eyes, neck and shoulders after class.

Hardware problems and communication failures were also common issues. In the same survey, many teachers reported inconveniences such as “blocking or dealing with error messages” (48.6%), and more than 50% of teachers answered that there were weeks when they “didn’t use digital textbooks at all”.

Beyond English and Maths

The introduction of digital textbooks for more subjects, after English in school year 2024 and mathematics in school year 2025 or later, is to be considered in the future.

Curricula, which form the basis of school classes and textbooks, are revised every 10 years, with the next revision scheduled for around 2027. Digitization may be further promoted with the revision, but the increase in number of materials incur additional charges. The question of who should pay for the modernization of the terminals, which should have a lifespan of around five years, remains to be determined.

Professor Fujio Omori of Tohoku University, who specializes in educational policy, commented: “Scientific verification of the effects on learning, not to mention the effects on health, is necessary. Compulsory education should be mainly paper-based and digital textbooks should only play a complementary role.

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