From slates to tablets: Schools eye digital future (Yomiuri, Dec 23, 2010)


The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series. This installment, the last of three parts, focuses on the government-led effort to promote the use of information and communication technology in public primary schools.

“Let’s type these words using the alphabet,” teacher Naoko Kamada tells her class after writing the words “kaki” and “suika” in Japanese on an electronic blackboard.

Her students then turn to their tablet PCs and begin to work with serious expressions on their faces.

Each of these 23 fourth-graders at Honden Primary School in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo, has a tablet PC–small, portable computers with touchscreens and keyboards–at their desk during this October general studies class.

For some students, the task took a matter of seconds; others were faced with problems over how to use the devices. “Sensei! I can’t erase what I wrote,” one student shouted out.

Despite differences in familiarity with the computers, all of the children appeared eager to learn how to use them.

“I want to learn to type faster,” said 9-year-old Mitsuki Hayashi, who was using a computer for the first time during this class.

“Computer class is fun,” said Shino Asada. “I want to learn to read the alphabet properly.”

Kamada is hopeful for her students. “Some day, I want to be able to teach them how to use their computers to express their own opinions.”

The Internal Affairs and Commuincations Ministry incorporated such ideas into its “future school project.” The project calls for each student to be outfitted with a tablet PC and each school to be equipped with wireless LAN and electronic blackboards. The aim is to have children also participate in teaching each other.

Ten public primary schools across the country–including Honden Primary School–have been designated as model schools for the project, and have been equipped accordingly. The pilot program will run for three years, allowing schools to find problems that will arise in connection with the ICT environments or through the use of ICT in the classroom. Among the issues to be examined are the technology, costs and educational benefits.

The use of digital textbooks has drawn considerable attention as their benefits are being evaluated. One reason is because the government is considering the possibility of providing every student in the country with a digital reader by the year 2020.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry reasons that an introduction of such technology “will make it possible for each student to learn in line with his or her level.” Yet certain members of a ministry blue-ribbon panel have stated concern over possible adverse effects resulting from the constant use of computers and other such devices on the health and communication abilities of students.

The ability to communicate and empathize can be fostered only through direct human contact. Will there be any pitfalls associated with providing every child with a digital reader? To truly understand the situation before we make the leap, the government needs to closely look at the effects–good and bad–that a digital classroom will provide.

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