POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 21 October 2010, Thursday
Towards a ‘Bookful’ Society
A newspaper article from a couple days ago heralded the use of “tablets” in selected Laguna public high school next year in lieu of textbooks. The headline used the term “e-book readers”. The two devices are different from each other in fundamental ways and I wonder if the proponents of this project are aware of this. Certainly they should know which term to use when speaking of them.
Next school year, around 1,000 “tablets” are to be distributed to freshman students of the Laguna National Science High School, UP Rural High School, and one public high school from each of the province’s four congressional districts.
The devices, said to cost $100 each and will be sourced from China, have already been dubbed “Rizal Tablets”, after the national hero. They are expected to provide students with easy access to instructional materials since each device can come pre-loaded with the prescribed textbooks and references.
Laguna provincial board member and educational committee chairman Neil Nocon was said to have “likened” the Rizal Tablet to “Apple’s iPad or Amazon Kindle”.
First, the iPad and Kindle are dissimilar and should not be confused with each other. The terms are not interchangeable.
“iPad” is a brand name and refers to an Apple product that looks like a handheld computer monitor. It glows like one, can connect to the Internet via Wifi and 3G, and is used primarily for consumption of media – surfing the Internet, playing games, and reading e-books. The generic name of similar devices is “tablet”.
An Apple iPad is great for viewing content in color. Image from here.
“Kindle”, on the other hand, is a brand name for an “electronic book reader” developed by online retail giant Amazon.com. It can only be used for reading texts in electronic formats. It also comes in WiFi and 3G flavors, but for now can be used only to access the Kindle Store to purchase and wirelessly download e-books.
It is not backlit; it uses a different technology called “e-ink” that will make you think of the Etch-A-Sketch of your childhood days, and was designed to mimic as closely as possible the look of printed text, with charcoal-black letters on a gray background. The font size can be changed, a boon for the visually challenged. It can even function as an audio-book device, although the built-in computer voice is tinny and none too pleasant. Have your loved ones read to you instead.
The Amazon Kindle is fantastic for reading. Image from here.
Now, the pros and cons. I own a second-generation Kindle and am waiting impatiently for my US-based cousin to come over to Manila next month with the third-generation version I ordered. The Kindle is very light, weighing only several ounces, and can be held for long periods in one hand, making it great for reading in bed. Since there is no backlight, there is no glare. The e-ink screen lets you see the text even in bright sunlight. A full battery charge can last a week or longer, as long as the wireless feature is not switched on. However, all it can do is let you to read books.
You can do more things on an iPad, such as surf the Web and use a wide variety of “apps” (applications) that allow you to do most things you can already do on an iPhone and more. The display is fabulous – crisp and clear and in brilliant color, perfect for playing “Plants vs. Zombies”. But it’s heavier than an e-book reader; the backlight might cause eyestrain if used to read for extended periods (about as long as it takes to read several textbook chapters, perhaps?); and the battery charge lasts only hours.
In a campaign speech last May, senator Richard Gordon proposed buying a Kindle for each of 17 million public school students to “raise the quality of education” by making access to textbooks easy and cost-effective. I remember liking the proposal when I first heard it – anything that gives people access to information is a good idea.
Laguna’s move to pilot-test the use of such devices as early as next year is exciting. Will the use of tablets or e-book readers spread the love of reading among young people? Will it raise functional literacy? Will it provide our students with knowledge and critical thinking skills? Let’s hope so.
But before they do roll out the plan, the Department of Education, the Laguna provincial board, and educators should look closely into the merits and disadvantages of each kind of device and be certain they are making the right choice for students. Which of these two types of devices do they actually plan to get?
It has also been mentioned that this project comes close to DepEd secretary Bro. Armin Luistro’s “vision of a bookless society”. I assume he means a society that uses handheld electronic devices for reading, not a society that does not read. I hope that the students given such devices will be allowed to use them to read for pleasure and not just for school, because the cult of the book brings some of the deepest joy that thinking man can experience.
A well-written story can take you to another place, another time, and put you in the mind of a character very different from you and make you feel what she or he feels. Fictionist Stephen King called it “falling through a hole in the paper”. In this case, it would be “falling through a hole in the screen”, but as long as the result is the same, I have no objection.
And may we soon bring about a “bookful” society, where the written word is enjoyed as much as the mindless drivel on television. If he were still alive, that would make Jose Rizal very happy, especially if it means that his Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and other works will be made available to a wider audience. ***