The key education reforms include schools' change-over to e-books. The education minister has said repeatedly that it is expected to provide all 17 thousand Ukrainian schools with electronic textbooks by 2015. Such innovation is also stipulated in the National project "Open world".

Interactivity is considered the biggest advantage of the e-textbook over the traditional one, and students and teachers will have a possibility to choose. However, the project is still just ink on paper, and going into educational details ForUm has tried to find out more about the process of its implementation. 

E-textbook is a digitized paper book?

The experiment with e-textbooks started four years ago. Since 2009 the Education Ministry has been working with a publishing house, which develops educational materials and digitizes books of the school curricula. "E-version of a textbook is identical to its paper original - content, tasks, exercises, etc. In other words, if there is no paper version of a textbook, there won't be an electronic one," director of the Institution for innovative technologies and content standards Oleksandr Udod says. 

The process of creation of new-generation textbooks for secondary schools is in progress. "First- and second-grade pupils already use new editions of textbooks. Materials for third-grade pupils are being published, while the books for fourth-grade pupils will be published next year. Thus, only after issuing paper textbooks, there will be a possibility to create their e-versions," he explains.

The same concerns textbooks for other grades - their e-version will be created on a step-by-step basis within the next years after official approval of the Education Ministry and publication in paper form.

However, a digitized paper book is not really an electronic textbook. E-textbooks must also contain references to various courses and subjects, laboratory courses on chemistry and physics, video clips, audio files and multimedia presentations.

Thus, the question is what will happen to traditional paper textbooks when e-books take over the classes? Oleksandr Udod assures they will be used along with the electronic versions. But if traditional paper textbooks are distributed among students by libraries, where will children take these e-books? Through Internet? CDs? According to Udod, e-versions of textbooks for first, second and fifth grades, already published in paper form, are available for inspection on the official website of the Education Ministry. ForUm decided to check and visited the website, namely the section "School textbooks", but found only an empty page. May be there was a glitch or we did not search well, but the question where to take an e-textbook remains open.

A tablet to each student

We should not forget that an e-textbook cannot be read without proper device, and pupils must have such device both at home and at school. However, the thing is that it is still unclear what device Ukrainian pupils will use - tablets, e-readers or laptops.

Some Ukrainian companies have already developed special readers for students. And their principle advantage over tablets and laptops is that students can use them for a long period of time without any harm to eyes. However, the software of these readers is rather limited - only e-books, text documents and photos.

In turn, some world leading brands have worked out special tablets, which can contain e-textbooks, e-exercise books, examination works, video tutorial, and, of course, have access to Internet. "We have a special tablet for school with already installed licensed programs. We have secured access to unwelcome websites for pupils not to go where they are not supposed to," director on cooperation with state organizations and educational institutions Nadezhda Vasiliyeva says.

Well, it seems pupils and their parents have plenty of choices, but again, who will provide students with this technological wonder? The state of parents? "There is no point to engage into social populism - to give free of charge devices to children of oligarch and businessmen. We give all parents an exclusive and equal possibility to buy these devices below market," chairman of the state agency on investments and national projects management Vladyslav Kaskiv says. According to him, there will be also a possibility to purchase the device on interest-free loan. "Loan repayment will cost parents several euro per months, same as paying for books," he explains.

The social part is also preserved - disabled children and orphans will be provided with the devices at state budget expenses. "I believe we have found a well-balanced approach to the distribution of the devices. It enables the state to perform its social mission and gives a possibility of wide choice - from the cheapest to the most expensive devices. However, we cannot oblige parents to buy this or that device," Kaskiv notes. 

"Pros" and "cons" from parents

Opinions of parents on this matter are divided. Some parents are all in favor of the innovation, counting on tablets to save their children many troubles. "I am happy schools are now allowed to use tablets. First of all, one small tablet is not like five or six heavy books to carry in a bag. Secondly, it is more interesting for children to study with tablets. Thirdly, it is very convenient. My son goes to a sport section after school, and he has to come home first to leave the school bag, but with a tablet he will not have to waste time," mother of a seventh grade pupil Olga Dmytrenko says.

Other parents fear that this know-how will cost them a fortune. "Even an interest-free loan is not an option for our family. We have very small income. And what if something happens to the device? Got broken or stolen?" Oksana Avdeyeva complains.  

If purchase of the device is not obligatory, many parents will deny their children the tablet. Thus, the need to reorganize classes arises. Classes should be now formed taking into account what materials pupils use - e-textbooks or paper textbooks. But! Wouldn't it be a violation of the law "On education", article 6 in particular, which provides for equality of education conditions for every person?

So, the project of e-textbooks has more questions than answers at the moment. And while new technologies are making their way through, the good old paper textbook, without bugs and always charged, remains the irreplaceable life-line for both teachers and pupils. 

Daryna Schwartzman


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