9 July 2009
Schwarzenegger wants to terminate textbooks in California
SAN JOSE, CA—By switching from printed to electronic textbooks, California’s education system will save millions of dollars, according to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The former bodybuilder and Hollywood action star last month unveiled an initiative that will give high school students access to math and science digital textbooks by September of this year, with plans to make digital books available for all grades and subjects in the future.

“California is home to software giants, bioscience research pioneers and first-class university systems known around the world. But our students still learn from instructional materials in formats made possible by Gutenberg's printing press,” Schwarzenegger wrote in an article for the San Jose Mercury News. “It's nonsensical — and expensive — to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form. Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators' hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources.”

California spent more than $350 million on schoolbooks and other instructional materials last year. “Imagine the savings schools could realize by using these high-quality, free resources. Even if teachers have to print out some of the material, it will be far cheaper than regularly buying updated textbooks,” Schwarzenegger wrote.

Because they are easier to update, digital texts will offer educators and students more up-to-date information than printed texts, which are typically updated in six-year cycles, Schwarzenegger said.

But the plan is not without its critics.

"I would say out of a class of 30, maybe 10 or less ... have a computer at home,“ Kristina Fierro told KGET, a local TV station in Bakersfield, Calif., where she teaches high school.

With digital readers such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader priced around $300, Fierro also wonders whether the change will actually represent any real savings. "With the economy right now, obviously it would be a huge cost to get the materials, but also to train the teachers, to train the students to make sure they know how to use it properly,” she added.

And although Schwarzenegger has characterized textbooks as outdated, Ros Sutherland, professor in education at Bristol University, told The Guardian newspaper that printed books still offer students and teacher plenty of utility.

"You can flick back and forth in them quickly, you can scribble in them, it's easy to share one between a number of students," she said. "Though theoretically electronic textbooks can be much more interactive, the current reality is that a lot of them are little more than pdf versions of the paper book. A colleague of mine the other day got it right when he said that if you could invent anything that's as powerful as the book in the next hundred years we'll have done well."

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