Schools head hails 'magic' of learning via smartphone

Traditional textbooks will disappear in the age of electronic devices, says Girls Schools' chief

The death of classroom textbooks is predicted today by the new leader of the country's top girls' schools. In future, pupils will access texts through smartphones and e-readers, Louise Robinson, the incoming president of the Girls' Schools Association, said in her first interview.

"Taking on board the fact that textbooks will be on your mobile, whatever shape, name or type of fruit your mobile relates to... anywhere, any time, any place – it's a huge possibility," she said. Pupils could learn more from the "magic" of using smartphones and tablets than from simply reading a book, she argued.

In addition, they can access information in advance of lessons. "If you say: 'The next lesson is going to be on the skeleton', what you can see online now in terms of the skeleton and where you can go with it makes children have far more control over their learning that they ever could do before. One click and you're into another world," she added.

However, children would have to be taught how to access information properly online, she cautioned. "You and I wouldn't send a child into a library and say 'Go and have a look'," Mrs Robinson said. "You'd actually help them, show them where the information is to access and which bits they should be looking at for their age and stage."

She continued: "When you see a young child on their tablet, or internet, the magic they are seeing in that information, the way that they absorb it and reflect it back at you is just wonderful."

Mrs Robinson, who is head of Merchant Taylors' Girls' School in Crosby, Liverpool, added: "I can understand the concept that there's the real smell of a very old book – I'm not going to throw them on the bonfire at all. I do believe that there will be a time and a place for going to look at an old book – but when you're doing class reading, why buy the hard copy?"

Seemingly unafraid of causing controversy in her new position, Mrs Robinson said she thought the AS-level exam would become increasingly irrelevant if students were able to apply to university after they had received their A-level results. Proposals to move towards applying post-results were outlined by UCAS earlier this year. The new system could be in force as early as 2016.

Mrs Robinson said that at present universities often scrutinise AS-level results because they are the only hard information available post-GCSE of a student's ability. "From a student's point of view, AS-levels are good in terms of a break in learning, and for finding out halfway through whether they're on target," she said.

"What I'm not so clear on is why universities are placing so much credibility on AS results. We are spending an awful lot of time making sure they do as well as possible in those exams.

"If we are going to move to post-qualification applications, it would take away not quite the need but the emphasis on AS-level results, and it would mean that we wouldn't have to spend so much time preparing for them," she added.

The Girls' Schools Association represents most of the country's leading independent girls' schools.

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