According to The New Democratic Leadership Council – a Washington think tank formed in 1985 – every one of America’s 56 million K-12 schoolchildren should be supplied with an electronic book reader of some type. In a paper entitled “A Kindle In Every Backpack”, authored by Thomas Z Freedman, it is suggested that this would cut costs and allow for texts which are constantly updated.
Government spending on traditional printed textbooks currently runs at $109 per student. According to Mr. Freedman’s report the initial costs for the provision of electronic readers would be around $200 currently, dropping to $80 per student by 2012. Who would pay for this initiative is not defined in the paper – but it seems reasonable to assume that the government would pick up the tab.
According to the report, the benefits of the plan would include the ability to update academic textbooks quickly, the possibility to run interactive educational programs – including tests and quizzes and a reduced weight to be carried by students. Environmental aspects are not mentioned in the report, but there would almost certainly be a huge reduction in the volume of paper used by the academic textbook publishers each year.
The Amazon Kindle eBook reader is mentioned several times throughout the report – but the possibility of using other brands is also noted. One possible problem with the current design of Kindle may be the suitability of its screen for rough handling. There is currently a class action suit raised against Amazon regarding cracking face plates and screens. This seems mostly concerned with Kindles which have had covers fitted to them and may not represent any flaw in the device itself. However, it would seem unreasonable to expect young students to show greater care when handling their Kindles than adults who have paid for the device themselves. Therefore, it might be necessary to produce a “ruggedized” version of the reader, suitable for the inevitable bumps and scrapes which should be expected during the academic year.
There does seem to be an ever increasing air of inevitability regarding the move to electronic textbooks. Californian governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently announced that California would start providing free electronic textbooks in August of 2009. California’s program makes no specific mention of the Kindle but, even so, Amazon executives must have been delighted with both the announcement and the immediate implementation of the scheme. Amazon also have partnership agreements with a number of universities and academic publishers already in place. It really is beginning to look more like “when” rather than “if” electronic textbooks will become part of the mainstream.