By The Nation
When it comes to the quality of education, the focus is understandably on the teachers, while access to good learning materials has been largely underrated. It doesn’t hurt, however, to try to improve this aspect of education. After all, we are living in a world where many things are at our fingertips. It’s no longer a dream to make a whole library available to children in the remotest parts of Thailand if they are in possession of cheap computer tablets or e-readers.
A past government tried to kick-start a tablet-for-students programme, which was plagued with all kinds of trouble including some graft rumours. The idea was good, but the implementation was both sloppy and dubious. Such a scheme should be reconsidered, expanded and carried out in a way that politics and business have the least to do with it.
The “E-library” will be the norm of the future. That doesn’t mean Thailand has to wait, though. For a country that always struggles to improve the quality of its education, the concept should be part of the solution. And the time is now.
It’s a project more worthwhile than, say, buying a couple of military submarines. It is feasible and can begin quite early, too. E-readers are becoming cheaper and cheaper, so this part of state investment should not be a problem. All the government has to do is find a reasonable contract with credible manufacturers and work out how many are really needed to be given for free.
Content and Wi-Fi accessibility can be a little harder, with the former involving legal issues and the latter probably concerning balance sheets of private companies. But, again, any government with a true political will to upgrade education should be able to overcome potential obstacles related to copyright and Internet signals at remote schools.
The “E-library” has already featured as a business concept. Some customers of Amazon are being offered various kinds of accesses to “free” content that they can “borrow”. Details of the “promotions” sound like something only rich people can get their hands on, but certainly many things about Amazon’s plans can be adapted for poor Thai students.
E-readers can store textbooks as well, and this fact alone can immensely benefit children in remote areas who have to make difficult journeys to school day in and day out. Looking at the prices of e-readers nowadays, a state spending of Bt3 billion can make going to school more pleasant for about a million kids.
Some people will argue that Thai people don’t like to read and the children are no different. This assumption probably does not take into account what could have happened if a library is next door to each family. The e-reader and e-library will not place an entire library next door; they will put it “inside” the home.
Children will use it to play games, the same doubters may say. Cheap e-readers can restrict such activities to just board games.
As for fears that “nonsense” reading content can make its way to children, this is wrongly assuming that the kids can only get smart by reading textbooks.
All in all, benefits will easily outweigh potential drawbacks. The cost alone is attractive, and there are few investments that can deliver greatest profits on the grandest scale.