Is the Romanian School System Ready for Digital Books?
A Promising Start
Introducing digital books in schools is a controversial matter still under discussion in Romania. Even at an international level, there are many different voices speaking about the advantages and disadvantages of allowing this innovative teaching aid to take over the traditional paper books.
In 2013, at the launch of the first online school book, Education Minister Remus Pricopie declared that the existence of a platform for digital school books on manuale.edu.ro “would be useful not only to children in Romanian schools, but to teachers as well, who will be able to better choose their educational tools, and to parents who work with their children, and even to parents and children who do not live in Romania but who would like to follow an education using the Romanian curriculum.” At present, approximately 190,000 digital ABC books can be found in almost all the schools in Romania, in all six versions.
Based on my personal opinion, as well as a small research I made, concerning the new wave of "digitalization", I will refer to a few of its main pros and cons.
Which do you prefer?
- One of the most obvious perks of using a digital book has to do with the technological development that has taken place worldwide over the past two decades. Many children are already familiarized with the internet, the all-encompassing virtual universe. They love video games, they have Facebook accounts and they know more about tablets than their parents. This makes it much easier for them to learn from tablets instead of browsing the boring paper textbooks, which they often associate with homework and other obligations.
- Digital books weigh almost nothing (ok, 1-2 pounds if you count the tablet), whereas paper textbooks are quite heavy. Sometimes I see an eight-year-old carrying what seems to be the weight of the world on his little shoulders. I then see myself as a child, with my red backpack, looking like a tortoise. This does not happen with tablets; they store hundreds of textbooks, tests, quizzes, and other necessary files, proving helpful for both students and teachers, who save time and money. No more having to print hundreds of handouts, no more bringing additional materials such as personal books or maps. By opting for digital books, we also help the environment. Thousands of trees are sacrificed every year for educational purposes. Although the end justifies the means, this sad reality could and should be avoided.
- Most eBooks let you adjust the font size. If you have hypermetropia, for example, and you forgot your glasses, you can make the letters much larger. If you want to avoid too much “page turning”, you can make the letters really small. You can also change the color and font type.
- In 2014, the school year started without books for pupils in first and second grades. According to a statement of the Federation of Education Trade Unions, the appeals to the tender for the selection of textbooks were not solved at the beginning of the school year (in September). The publishing houses that lost the "bidding game" started a huge quarrel, while the politicians were shrugging their shoulders. This may have been an unprecedented event, but an alarming one nonetheless.
- Some unsettling statistics show that in Romania, only 83% of the schools received a sanitary authorization, mainly due to the lack of running water. And it gets worse – a lot of schools have been closed because many children from poor families (especially in the rural areas) don’t go to school anymore. Since there are numerous educational institutions that require serious repairs and reconstructions, digital books are like a beautiful mirage in the desert. You cannot build a strong edifice on a frail foundation.
- And then there are the technical issues. Tablets, laptops and other devices may encounter a variety of problems (like crashing, freezing or attacks from hackers) that require an experienced technician to fix – meaning money that the parents may not have. Plus, students have excuses for not doing their homework. It’s easy to blame the tablet which broke or the email containing the assignment, which was conveniently infected with a virus produced by an angry hacker.
- Some of the parents with whom I talked told me that their children have been affected by the prolonged use of eBooks. Most of them are short-sighted. In certain cases, their myopia got worse after a few months. But there are also health problems that may arise, such as neck and shoulder pain, the carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as the Computer Vision Syndrome, which causes eyestrain, headaches, dry eyes and blurred vision. From this point of view, relying on the good old paper textbooks is also much healthier.
To conclude, given the current social and economic context, the Romanian school system is not ready for digital books. Furthermore, using them may be unhealthy for children. However, they do possess a few undeniable advantages – saving time and resources – and should thus be regarded as textbook auxiliaries and consulted when possible.