Textbook-free schools: this is how it works

By Drum Digital
07 August 2014

Linkside High School in Port Elizabeth started 2014 by turning a new (paperless) leaf in its classrooms. Teachers for Change spoke to the school’s principal, James Hay, about this decision and how it works on a practical level.

Linkside High School in Port Elizabeth started 2014 by turning a new (paperless) leaf in its classrooms. Teachers for Change spoke to the school’s principal, James Hay, about this decision and how it works on a practical level.

All Grade 8 students starting their high school career at Linkside were required to purchase a tablet that would replace all the textbooks, and leave their school bags slightly lighter. The textbooks are then downloaded via EPUB onto each learner’s tablet; teachers also use tablets when teaching.

Q: Why did you decide to replace textbooks with tablets?

A: It’s a school’s duty to prepare learners for the future. Regardless of what learners will be doing after school one day (a job, university) technology will play a major role in preparing them for being competent in what they’re going to do. The school, by introducing tablets and using them in collaboration with other forms of technology, is thus teaching learners these vital skills which they’ll need in the workplace one day.

EPUB textbooks (used with tablets) are also text rich and interactive and stimulate these 21st-century learners so much more. They live in an age of technology and they feel comfortable using it. EPUB also makes it possible for teachers to push content [insert extra information or notes] to the learners’ books, thus enriching them and making them the “perfect” textbooks. The price of an EPUB textbook is also half the price of a hard-copy one.

Q: How did you phase in the use of tablets in the classroom?

A: The idea was to start with Grade 8 only, for whom it’s compulsory, but after having three meetings with the Grade 9 parents and learners we’ve made it optional for them as well, and more than 80 per cent have elected to use tablets instead of traditional textbooks

Q: Are learners’ tablets connected to the internet throughout the day?

A: They’re connected to the school Wi-Fi, yes. But they don’t need to be in order to be able to use their EPUB textbooks.

Q: How do teachers have to adapt their lesson presentation?

A: We’ve been using technology at the school since 2009 so the shift hasn’t been that major. It’s more a question of teachers using their individual creative skills and using the tablet to its maximum effect in their classes.

Q: Did teachers and learners go for special training to be able to use the tablets?

A: Yes, the teachers had training on how to use the device; they also had training in the pushing of content into the EPUBs.

Q: To what extent do you think tablets promote interactivity in the classroom?

A: Where technology such as the data projector and laptop empowered only the teacher to use technology the tablet has now brought an element of collaboration where learners don’t just play a passive role in the teaching/learning process but in fact a very active and interactive one.

Q: What advice do you have for other schools or teachers that want to start using tablets in the classroom?

A: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Q: What is the biggest advantage and challenge of making this transition?

A: The greatest advantage is the fact that technology has changed the world, and will change it even more in future. As educators we must always be at the forefront of those educational changes in order to prepare our learners as best we can for the future. The challenges will always be infrastructure and costs, and of course the doom-and-gloomers.

- Suzaan Hauman

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