Government panel supports use of digital textbooks in Japan’s schools from 2020

Kyodo

An education ministry panel is urging the government to allow schools to use digital textbooks, abandoning printed textbooks entirely in some subjects, from fiscal 2020, according to a draft report submitted to the ministry Friday.

It also recommended that the government develop a way to vet such textbooks.

The panel of experts, mulling the introduction of digital textbooks to be accessed on tablets or other devices, is expected to compile its final report in June. Its recommendations could be reflected when the ministry next revises its curriculum guidelines in the 2020 fiscal year.

According to the draft report, digital textbooks incorporating audio or video content could be particularly effective in teaching science and the English language.

The panel recommends retaining paper textbooks as the primary teaching resource, and using digital textbooks either as a supplementary resource or completely switching to digital textbooks for some courses.

The panel also said the ministry “should not rule out” the possibility of requiring schools to choose either paper or digital textbooks for some units.

The nation’s elementary, junior high and high schools are required by law to use textbooks that have passed a government screening process, which at present is designed to vet only printed books.

The panel suggests that the content of printed and digital textbooks be kept the same, allowing only paper versions to continue to be screened.

But in the event digital textbooks are used on their own, the ministry will need to come up with a method of vetting the audiovisual content absent in the printed versions, the panel said.

At present, textbooks are provided free of charge for Japan’s nine years of compulsory education, which comprises elementary and junior high school.

The panel suggests that while digital textbooks need not be made free when they are used together with paper versions, prices should be kept as low as possible.

The ministry should consider requiring the digital versions to be free in the medium and long term, the draft report added.