iPads replacing note pads as Asian schools go high-tech

Apple's iPad and other tablet computers are replacing traditional note pads in some Asian schools and making the lives of thousands of students a whole lot easier.

Soon pupils could be reading on their tablets about a quaint old communication device called "paper", especially in Asia's advanced economies where many schools are racing towards a paperless classroom.

The slim glass slabs slip easily into a bag and can store thousands of textbooks, making a fat school bag full of heavy books, pens and notepads a thing of the past.

"I like the iPad because it is portable and we do not have to carry so many bags and files around," said 13-year-old Nicole Ong, who now makes notes on her iPad during class at Nanyang Girls' High School in Singapore.

A sample group of more than 120 students and 16 teachers at the school have been given iPads, at a cost of over $100,000. By 2013, every student in the school will have one.

The number of software applications - or apps - that can be used for educational purposes on tablet computers is set to explode.

It's a brand new business that even media mogul Rupert Murdoch has identified as an area of huge potential growth.

Murdoch said his News Corp group is to push into the education technology market in a speech to the e-G8 conference of Internet entrepreneurs and European policymakers in Paris last month.

He described education as the "last holdout from the digital revolution" and outlined a vision for personalised learning with lessons delivered by the world's best teachers to thousands of students via the Internet.

"Today's classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age," Murdoch added.

But many Asian schools are already way ahead of the game.

"No longer is language learning solely based on the teacher commenting on students' works - classmates can feedback on one another," said Seah Hui Yong, curriculum dean of Nanyang.

Rene Yeo, head of the information technology department at Tampines Secondary School, also in Singapore, teaches science with his iPad. His students learn factorisation by simply moving the numbers around on the screen.

They also read about animal cells and the human brain structure by clicking on the various parts. And tablet computers make the double helix structure of a human DNA practically come to life before a student's eyes.

There are apps to learn English and maths, pupils can do cause and effect analysis on iBrainstorm, prepare for oral exams and speeches with AudioNote and even strum the guitar for a music lesson on GarageBand.

The rise of classroom technology will mirror its rise throughout society, says Sam Han, a US-based expert on the role of technology in education.

Han, instructional technology fellow at the Macaulay Honors College, City University of New York, said he expects some Asian countries to leapfrog the West.

"While the Internet was birthed in the US, Singapore and South Korea (for example) boast far greater broadband Internet access penetration and infrastructure than the US," he said.

Japan's communications ministry has given tablets to more than 3,000 under-12 pupils at 10 elementary schools and even fitted classrooms with interactive electronic blackboards under the so-called "future school" pilot project.

In South Korea, where schools have WiFi zones, the education ministry has been testing 'digital textbooks' in some schools since 2007. In 2012, the ministry says it will decide whether to supply tablets to schools nationwide.

Singapore has a hugely competitive education system known for its high level of science and mathematics instruction. The education ministry provides a grant for schools to buy this kind of equipment, as well as software and services.

Many schools already have WiFi, making it easy for students to connect to the Internet.

But some teachers acknowledged there are students who get distracted by playing games or surfing Facebook and other social media sites like Twitter.

Education psychologist Qiu Lin cautioned against schools getting carried away and promoting the blind use of technological devices, and neglecting the real goals of education.

"The trend of integrating technology into education will definitely increase," said the assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University, which is separate from the high school.

"But after one month when the novelty of iPads wears down, a good curriculum and teaching materials that can increase deep thinking and problem solving in students need to be in place."

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