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Asian Schools Go High-Tech with iPads

Monday, September 5th, 2011

The phenomenal rise of Apple's iPad is changing the face of mobile computing in almost all major aspects of Asian society, including education. Schools in more economically-advanced Asian countries are now going high-tech with the integration of the iPad and other similar tablet devices as a comprehensive learning solution for their students, which will eventually replace traditional paper-based notepads.

Using digital books will make it a lot easier for students in these Asian schools to use the tablet as a primary learning tool instead of physical textbooks and notebooks. iPads and tablets can store literally thousands of pages of textbooks that students can easily access as well as serve as a note-taking device. Not only will students do away with lugging heavy school bags filled with books, pens, and paper when going to school, but a paperless classroom will be good for the environment as well.

In Japan, the Future School project is already underway with classrooms from ten different elementary schools fitted with electronic blackboards which will be a more interactive communication platform between the school and the students. Aside from that, Japanese students from these schools will be provided with one tablet each as a primary learning tool.

In South Korea, schools are equipped with WiFi zones and these areas are used by the education ministry as a testing ground for digital textbooks to which students can have access. These online texts would be part of the education ministry's plan of supplying tablets to all schools nationwide.

The education ministry in Singapore, a country known for its high level of math and science education, will be providing schools with grants to purchase tablets, software and services. One example is the Nanyang Girls' High School, where more than 120 students and 16 teachers were already provided grants to the tune of 100,000 Singapore dollars. These grants are in line with the nation's goal of providing one iPad to each student in the country by 2013.

Redefining the Classroom in Asian Schools

Classrooms around the world today generally look the same that they did in centuries past. But everything is changing now in this digital age, particularly in Asian schools, which are already way ahead in the game of digitizing education. Learning will also evolve from traditional teacher-student interaction, but tablets will make it easier for students to give learning feedback to one another using their tools and online resources.

In some schools in Singapore, where the use of iPads and similar devices are now being used extensively by both teachers and students, learning can be both fun, interactive, and more interesting with these devices. Students can move numbers around to study factorization or learn more about parts of the cell or the human body by simply clicking on a section in a diagram. The human DNA double helix structure can come alive on the screen, making it more interesting for students to learn. These and other similar educational applications are being developed and made available for the tablet.

The growing penetration of tablets in Asian schools is just a reflection of the device's popularity in mainstream society. Sam Han, an instructional technology fellow at the City University of New York and a US-based expert on the role of technology in education, foresees that the use of technology in some Asian countries may even surpass or leapfrog that of the West. According to Han, this is primarily due to greater broadband Internet access penetration in these countries as well as better Internet infrastructure than countries in the West, including the United States.

Not all experts are keen on loosely dumping technology on Asian schools. Education experts and psychologists are concerned that students may get distracted with the available social networks and games online, which would be accessible from their tablets. Thus they could neglect the main goal of the device as an educational tool. The penetration of social media among Asian youths is very high and has grown even more so with the proliferation of tablets, smartphones, and other web-enabled devices. Providing students with Internet-connected tablets would give them free reign to access social networks or play online games instead of studying their lessons.

However, these experts also acknowledge that the use of technology in schools is inevitable and will be the trend of educational systems in the future. Tablet makers are now developing devices intended for educational purposes, and alongside come software developers that will provide various applications intended for teaching or learning. Educational applications and online learning systems could actually increase student thought and analytical skills - once they overcome the novelty aspects of owning an iPad or a tablet.

Tablet Makers Targeting the Education Market

Rupert Murdoch, the famous media mogul known for his New Corp group, said in one of his speeches that the use of tablet computers and the rush of software applications that goes with it for educational purposes would be a huge business with an immense potential growth. Murdoch said that education technology is the "last holdout from the digital revolution" and his own company would be pushing into the realms of this new market. His vision is to provide a personalized learning system where lessons will be delivered by some of the world's best teachers to students around the world using the Internet.

Apple's iPad is expeted to be the primary tool to deliver this educational technology system, but it would not be the only one. Several tablet makers and start-up technology companies are joining the bandwagon in providing educational tablets for students worldwide. This includes companies like mySpark Technologies, Vinci Tab, and ScrollMotion - all moving towards providing education solutions to students and changing the way they study, do their homework and share information with teachers and fellow students.

Most of these tablets will be based on the Android operating system and will feature a 10-inch screen where students can download and read digital textbooks, run educational Android applications, sync with their school calendars, and collaborate with teachers and peers using instant messaging. Going beyond the boundaries of traditional textbooks, students can learn more effectively using these interactive materials as well as from online educational videos and other web-based courses. Tablets like the MySpark will be provided with a special stylus which students can use to take down and annotate notes.

While tablets like the MySpark will be targeting college students, other educational tablet manufacturers like Vinci Tab will provide tablets intended for non-school age kids. Children can learn and feed their curiosity from the storybooks, games, and music videos that will be made available. These applications can provide a focus for these kids and develop their analytical skills. This will be a better alternative to the iPad or even the Galaxy Tab, which may be too heavy and unsafe for toddlers and young kids.

Other startups will focus on providing digital educational content on their tablets, such as ScrollMotion, which has worked with traditional educational printed content from publications like McGraw-Hill, providing these materials available to online readers to supplement their education. This digital education-based content ranges from the availability of online versions of traditional education texts to online learning platforms focused on students from different levels.

These materials will also feed the natural tendency of students to socialize even if they choose to avoid their school libraries to supplement their education. Using the power of social media, students can benefit from a more collaborative learning environment where the collective learning input from the student community will benefit each and everyone's learning journey.

Marketplace Competition

Industrial research expert Gartner reported that the worldwide tablet market will almost double its sales in 2010 and may reach up to 54.8 million units this year. Gartner predicts that the market will continue to grow and surpass 208 million units by the year 2014. The education technology market will take a major part in this with industry leaders Apple and Samsung taking a larger piece of the pie. Other players like educational tablet startups will focus on niche education areas and grab their share of the market.

This competition among tablet players, whether they're industry giants like Apple or start-ups like MySpark, is favorable for educational institutions not only in Asia but also in other countries around the world. Each of these manufacturers wants to develop their own product that will provide teachers and schools better technological tools for learning - all intended for the benefit of the students. Students can learn better with interactive learning applications that will enhance the learning experience, making it easier for the students to study and provide teachers with more effective tools.

These new educational platforms will not only foster a new experience and environment for individual learning, but they will also facilitate more efficient and effective virtual study groups. Students can share educational content with peers, collaborate on school work, and collectively work on a school project - a better and more dynamic learning experience that students can easily learn to enjoy.

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