“Education leaders here worry that digital devices are too pervasive and that this young generation of tablet-carrying, smartphone-obsessed students might benefit from less exposure to gadgets, not more.”

March 25th, 2012

South Korea is slowing down its plan to transition to a digital education model:

Five years ago, South Korea mapped out a plan to transform its education system into the world’s most cutting-edge. The country would turn itself into a “knowledge powerhouse,” one government report declared, breeding students “equipped for the future.” These students would have little use for the bulky textbooks familiar to their parents. Their textbooks would be digital, accessible on any screen of their choosing. Their backpacks would be much lighter.

By setting out to swap traditional textbooks for digital ones, the chief element of its plan for transformation, South Korea tried to anticipate the future — and its vision has largely taken shape with the global surge of tablets, smartphones and e-book readers.

But South Korea, among the world’s most wired nations, has also seen its plan to digitize elementary, middle and high school classrooms by 2015 collide with a trend it didn’t anticipate:

Those concerns have caused South Korea to pin back the ambition of the project, which is in a trial stage at about 50 schools. Now, the full rollout won’t be a revolution: Classes will use digital textbooks alongside paper textbooks, not instead of them. First- and second-graders, government officials say, probably won’t use the gadgets at all.

This part about the nature of the Korean classroom is interesting:

Digital textbooks do, though, change the very nature of the classroom. Teachers who embrace the digital textbooks, education experts say, become more like “companions” in the education process, not just lecturing, but also helping students to conduct their own Google searches and to make sense of simulations featured in the e-textbooks.

At Seoul’s Guil Elementary School, where fifth- and sixth-graders participate in the trial, every student in the digital classrooms has a Hewlett-Packard laptop. Students toggle between their digital textbook and the Internet, which they use like an encyclopedia for fact-checking and research.

On this particular day, students are learning about pinhole cameras — a simple device that captures images upside-down.

When teacher Lee Yeon-ji asks her 24 students how the device works, she sends them to the Internet.

“I think I found something that sounds true,” one student says.

Minutes later, she asks them to double-click on a video, embedded in the digital textbook, illustrating the process. Students watch the video either on their laptops or on a high-definition monitor at the front of the classroom, in place of a chalkboard.

The Guil principal, observing in the back of the classroom, marvels at the way the students follow along, speeding between searches and simulations. “The students are focusing,” Yoon Taek-joong, the principal, says, and that sort of focus requires a digital brain.

“My brains and their brains must be totally different,” Yoon says.

H/T Steve R.