back to article School to hand out e-textbooks

A London school’s pencilled in plans to ditch old-style textbooks because it wants pupils to swot up using mobile phones instead. The Hackney City Academy, which is due to open in September 2009, plans to put PDF copies of its textbooks onto its intranet, from where pupils can access the books directly from their handsets or …


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  1. radian

    bloody kids

    '…..designed to help reduce the number of pupils carrying heavy book bags around…'

    Oh boo-hoo! Poor little kiddies!

    I thought we were supposed to be lowering the rate of child hood obesity? I say make them carry stone tablets around with them.

  2. Kevin Whitefoot

    The usual failure of imagination and protection of business interests

    If they were serious about reducing textbook costs they would buy the copyright of the book and place it under a Creative Commons remix license and then when it needs revision they would only have to pay some competent person for the hours needed to revise it. In fact if it were a good book someone might revise it for nothing.

    Or they could simply collaborate with others on producing suitable books; for physics such a book is already in progress:

    And not allowing the students to use the technology in class is just stupid.

  3. Joachim Korte-Bernard

    Reading Books on a Mobile

    That seems an odd idea to me, to read books on a mobile.

  4. Mr C
    Thumb Up

    eBook readers are perfect here

    This is the time for an eBook reader. God i wish i was a student at that school right now.

    This is what i expected (and certainly hoped) would happen

    finally getting rid of those heavy, big, clunky and wood-consuming books.

    Its a lot better for everybody.

  5. Rob Beard

    Health & Safety

    Surely it's really a health and safety risk. I mean for starters if the kids are using computers then they should be setup right so they don't strain themselves (I say this as I have my feet up and the computer at the side of me ;-). Plus reading from a screen after a while will surely give you eye strain.

    Not to mention not all kids have laptops, or is the school providing them?

    Can't help but think that some of them will either get damaged or go missing.

    From experience, reading a PDF from a small screen is going to be bloody annoying, either scrolling up and down the page or squinting while trying to read text which is too small.

    In the case of heavy books, I don't think so somehow, I mean it's not as if kids actually have as much hard work as in the olden days. I'd expect the poor kids lug much heavier bags around if they do a paper round (especially with them bloody Saturday papers).

    I dunno, kids these days, they don't know they're born with this internet thing and fast loading games, in my day you'd have to wait 5 minutes for a game to load, and that's if you were lucky and the bloody thing loaded (I had an Amstrad CPC464).


  6. Tim

    @Kevin Whitefoot

    Your logic is shot through. That's like suggesting you can reduce the price of bread in your school by buying the wheat field from the farmer, paying him to sow the seeds and then managing the threshing, milling and baking yourself.

    A school isn't a publishing house any more than it's a bakery, bus company or power station. Most teachers aren't writers either. Your idea is a good way to drive down the quality of textbooks as fast as their unit price shoots up.

    There's an internet word for this what you just wrote. What is it, wait a sec... Ah yes. Fail.

    As for this horrible tech in classrooms, have you ever tried to read a book on a 2" mobile screen? Of course not, because ACTUAL BOOKS ON PAPER are far better. You can't annotate, mark places with post-its, skim read to find relevant parts or easily see large diagrams on a mobile, or even a laptop for that matter. This idea is so bad it's comical.

    Ed Balls would love this though because it'd stop the clever kids reading ahead if they are only allowed to download today's chapter. Don't want them to make the plodders look bad, do we?

  7. David Shepherd

    "free schooling"

    Read some of the govenors meetings reports at the secondary school my son was about to go to a couple of years ago and they were considering using an "innovative PDA based" system for this sort of thing. From description sounded as if pupils would be required to acquire a PDA from the school and pay £10/month for 2 years for the privilege of having to use it. Fortunately the idea didn't seem to be taken any further than this so we've avoided another of the regular taps for money from the school for "essential educational experiences".

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Here you go, little Timmy

    It's a PDF of your textbook. Stick it on your phone and then you can spend your time on the bus squinting at a low resolution 2" screen*.

    If the school's not supplying - or requiring the ownership of - the kit they shouldn't be using such techniques. Also, if it takes off I'm buying shares in some Opticians.

    *Ironically enough, this was wrtitten from my mobile. But that's an HTC Artemis so entirely suitable for "leisure" reading of El Reg.

  9. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    One for Rotten Boroughs, then.

    "He claimed that homework usually only requires reference to one or two pages of a textbook at a time and so pupils won’t need to download vast swathes of data."

    So children won't be exposed to the educational exercise of actually *finding* the relevant information. The teacher will have to direct them to the exact pages (to avoid swathes of downloading). So what's the point of the homework then?

    And since even small downloads are not free, is the council going to help pay for the cost of being connected to their intranet?

    Thought not. This is clearly an educationally bad idea driven by commercial interests through a council too stupid to resist.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Enough of this "thinking out of the box"

    Let's have some thinking "in the box"...

    Government pays academics to produce text books that they have a perpetual licence to use and update. Net result is lower costs for text books across the board.

    Government spends money on better teaching standards rather than wasting it on technological frippery. Net result we have a well educated workforce in a decade and a half who can drag this country out of the pit it got into after a decade of nu labia's destruction of all things sacred.

  11. Edwin
    Thumb Down


    If my kids' school suggested they read textbooks on their smartphone or on a computer, I'd find another school PDQ. Kids' bodies are not made for that sort of abuse!

    The way to go here is ebook readers, and in fact is exactly what the Iliad (though indeed veeeeeeeeeeery expensive) was designed for.

    Too bad such great ideas often see such crap implementation.

  12. Elmer Phud

    New Schools, New tech, Old bollocks

    It seems the Academies don't really look towards education but the bright, shiny "It's all new, so it must be better" plan. That there are more exclusions coming from Academies, that perfectly good schools are being closed to apparently 'improve' the discredited SATS and that more and more of these wonderful designer buildings look great but have proved to be either poorly planned for pupils or leak like sieves seems to go unnoticed.

    We are experiencing an old-style way of not dealing with things but changing for change sake. No more three R's but the three B's -- bullshit baffles brains.

    It's like bloody mini-cab drivers -- all the hi-tech in the cars but still crap drivers as they spend all their time with noses stuck to twat-nav. "Nah, I don't need maps, I can get lost more efficiently with a box of chips. Don't need to learn any routes. Hey, why's the screen gone blank? Where am I?"

  13. Dark Horse

    "Sorry, miss..."

    "Sorry, miss. I couldn't do my homework because the battery on my electronic reader ran out and I left the charger in my locker."


  14. Kevin Whitefoot


    Where did I suggest that teachers should write the books? I said pay a competent person. And as the marginal cost of an electronic book is rather close to zero I don't think that the unit cost need be high, unless of course you are supporting the system where schools use brand new editions of books practically every year (that's what happens where I live, unfortunately). Presumably more than one school could use the same books thus distributing the cost over many many more units. Perhaps someone could give us some authoratitive esitmates of how many man hours are involved in writing a text book, then we might be able to settle the question one way or another. In any case there is no need to pay for anything other than the man hours involved in preparing the content, as there is no physical book involved there are no distribution costs (unless downloaded by phone of course).

    Of course using such a small screen is a ridiculous way of reading text books but allowing them for homework but not in class makes even less sense.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Marginal Costs vs Total Costs

    Kevin - the current high price of textbooks is precisely because the cost of writing / proof-reading / etc is relatively high compared to the marginal costs of merely printing the things, which can now be done near enough on demand - if not literally so.

    You can see this in the way that University textbooks cost even more than school textbooks, even though they have frequently lower production values (i.e. less artwork) - it's a factor of them having a smaller audience to spread the cost of development.

    For what it's worth the same thing has applied with music for a long time - the fact that 'CDs only cost 50p to make' actually shows that the marginal cost was always the least relevant part of the total cost.

    Now I'm all for reducing the costs and increasing the quality of education, but there is no reason why this has to have some link to digital technology per se.

    In theory, the cheapest form of education would be a single national curriculum, a single exam board, and a single textbook for each course, with all copyright owned by the state/public. That would actually make even more sense if the marginal costs of textbook production were high than if they were low. Low marginal costs actually suggest more room for creating customised variations.

    Not to mention the ideology that private companies competing should deliver a more 'competitive' solution than a monopoly (state or otherwise) - which is what paying someone to deliver a definitive 'free' work would be.

    On the upside - BECTA are starting to recognise the importance of open source in educational software which may be the start of a transformation in that culture - equally the growth in sites for teachers to share lesson plans and resources (expect the government to decide to implement a teacher specific social network soon).

  16. David Pollard

    @AC- So what's the point of the homework then?

    For some youngsters it seems to be turning into a matter of how best to phrase your questions on Yahoo! Answers.

  17. Richard Cartledge


    “It will be as simple as downloading a ringtone to a SIM card, something practically all teenagers will now know how to do,”

    - in other words, impossible!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    stupid idea

    As someone who supports IT in a school, I can honestly say this is the most stupid idea I've heard in a long time...

    good luck to the poor IT person at this school, they'll need it!

  19. Andrew Harfield

    In schools?!

    I'm sure that kids will be thrilled with the idea of a 24-7 learning environment...!!

    The fact that kids could be "working from home" via new technology is interesting too, although no more snow days!

    In schools, I can see why additional connectivity to the web would be beneficial as long as they're using that resource for the right reasons and not Facebook.

    I work out of the office an awful lot (as I'm sure many people now do), but this has only been made entirely possible in the past few years with the improvement of smartphone and pocket PC technology.

    I use a HTC Touch Diamond -

    It's a pretty good gadget and I'd like to see how this type of device could be adapted to fit a learning environment.

    Thanks, Andrew

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