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E-books in Indian schools: a myth or a reality?

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE, which included frontline curriculum, communicative approach to language teaching, Information Technology, alternatives to homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at educational conferences world over. This article has been taken from G. Balasubramanian’s offi­cial website


Down the memory lane, when I walk into the days of heading a school at Chennai and had the privilege of introducing introductory computer studies in the year 1981, with a HCL workhorse 2 level machine with a speed of 256 kB and a DM printer of 128 CPM, at one end I was treated like a celebrity and at the other end I was decorated as ‘a mad cap’. I learnt - breaking through traditional thinking was indeed a great challenge! Such challenges continued and do continue even now when you want to tread into newer paths. One cannot help it and must know how to walk through the challenges.

I am convinced E-books are a reality and hence traditional publishers need to reposition themselves to newer methods of orienting their industry - be it material preparation, be it pedagogy, be it design, be it marketing or pricing.

Please be assured that schools are not going to step into the e-book based classrooms from next academic year - may be a few here and there. But the schools, as a community, will take another seven to eight years to accept this change in totality. Nevertheless, one has to start somewhere.

An earnest attempt to bring about a change in the mindset of the school community needs to be made.

What are the challenges?

1. Fear of the unknown

  • Schools and teachers would certainly be having less comfort levels with the technology, even though they feel the necessity and urgency of technology as an enabler for effective learning.

  • The tradition of handling a textbook has helped them to look into and refer to the book at any point of time and with a certain con­fidence and speed. They do not know whether the e-books will provide that level of referencing and help them with a ‘to and fro’ motion in learning.

2. Fear of failure

Any time a teacher gets stuck with technology, they feel a sense of helplessness. They would fear whether e-books would at any time be a threat and expose their inadequacies because their comfort level is low.

3. Transition from a text-based learning

To accept an electronic medium, the same as printed text needs a bit of convincing and advocacy – re-positioning an attitude!

4. Material production

  • The e-book production by content developers is certainly at a very low benchmark. There have been several attempts to transfer the print content into e-content, which defeats the entire purpose and objective of e-learning.

  • The content design, the content style, the content presentation and its delivery has to be totally different for the e-books which should take cognizance of different learning styles and be a tool for personalised learning.

  • The pedagogy for e-books has to be different and contextualized to the e-content and again to suit personalised learning styles.

  • The producers need to understand that e-books discourage or leave least opportunities for rote learning. Skill based, experiential learning which would provide challenging learning opportunities for creative thinking need to be incorporated in the content. Innovations in book production need to be addressed.

5. Pricing

There is a tendency in the market to price e-books at a higher price to target schools which can afford and hence make early profi­ts. This may not pay dividends over a longer period of time. The strategy should be on moderate pricing with a thrust on increasing the volume of users so that there is better penetration in the market.

6. Market size and opportunities

  • Opportunities for B-2-B and B-2-C market opportunities exist in the ensuing years. The learning materials for both have to be technology appropriate and need to be learner friendly. They should facilitate and empower personalised dynamic learning.

  • School libraries offer enormous opportunities for e-learning and hence extended learning materials and informal learning tools embedded in e-content can be capsule and positioned for them.

Market size is going to be tremendous and the early birds with learner friendly content and cost will capture the market. Lastly, the producers need to educate the educators on the advantages of rehabilitating into a new culture of learning and thinking.

This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine February 2021 edition.


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