SEOUL: South Korea has rolled back its ambition to swop traditional textbooks for digital ones in schools, concerned that students would have little experience with real life and also develop an addiction that would be depressive when they have no access to electronic gadgets.
South Korea said recently it would introduce the first set of e-textbooks nationwide no later than 2015, a confirmation that its 2007 plan to digitise elementary, middle and high school classrooms would be followed through.
The lesson content would be accessible on any device - on tablets or laptops, in classrooms or at home, on Apples or Samsungs, said the Ministry of Education.
GETTING THE MIX RIGHT
'There have been some changes in ambition. In some ways, paper and digital textbooks will be used together. But we still haven't figured out the best mix... It might just depend on the teacher's personal style.'
Mr Ra Eun Jong, the deputy director of textbook planning at the Ministry of Education
However, the 2007 plan was scaled back, with officials saying paper textbooks still need a prime place in classrooms. That means classes will use digital textbooks alongside paper textbooks, and not rely solely on e-textbooks as originally planned.
'There have been some changes in ambition,' said Mr Ra Eun Jong, the deputy director of textbook planning at the ministry.
'In some ways, paper and digital textbooks will be used together. But we still haven't figured out the best mix... It might just depend on the teacher's personal style.'
According to the ministry, digital textbooks will enable classes to retrieve their homework from a 'cloud' computing network.
Conceivably, students will be able to access their homework in any place with Internet or cellphone services. They could even finish up their assignments on their smartphones while riding Seoul's subway.
There is also the possibility that the textbooks can be updated in real time.
But forbidding forecasts now make the world's most wired nation think twice about phasing out bulky textbooks altogether.
South Korea's education leaders now worry that digital devices have become too pervasive and say that the country's young generation of tablet-carrying, smartphone-obsessed students might benefit from less exposure to gadgets, not more.
Those concerns have caused South Korea to scale back the ambition of the project, which is in a trial stage at about 50 schools.
First- and second-graders probably would not use the gadgets at all, say government officials.
The JoongAng Ilbo, one of Seoul's major daily newspapers, has warned in an editorial about the country's 'exaggerated trust' in digital education and the wrongful assumption that wireless education means better quality.
Other countries are watching closely because no other nation has a similarly ambitious digital plan like that in South Korea, whose education system has long been known for pushing the limits.
'The concern about the digital textbook is that young students won't have as much time to experience real life and real things,' said Mr Kwon Cha Mi, who runs a digital programme at one of the pilot elementary schools in Seoul.
'They'll just see the whole world through a computer screen.'
Indeed, South Korean students are showing the downside of uber-stimulation.
According to a government survey, about one in 12 schoolchildren between the ages of five and nine is addicted to the Internet, meaning they become anxious or depressed if they go without access.
Education officials fear that if tablets and laptops become mandatory in the classroom, students could become even more device-dependent.
They might also suffer from vision problems.
Some parents, officials say, have expressed concern that their children will struggle to keep their focus on studying when using an Internet-connected device.
Before making a complete transition to digital books, the government should study the 'health effects' on students, said Mr Jeong Kwang Hoon, chief of the online learning division at the Korea Education and Research Information Service.