Bad news for school textbook vendors

Sunday, August 9th, 2009 | resources

It may still be some time before sufficient technology is available in South African schools to do away with textbooks altogether, but more and more people are thinking in this direction.

The article Moving Into a Digital Future, Where Textbooks Are History explains what is happening in some schools in the United States of America.

If you consider the vast amounts of money being spent on textbooks each year – and I believe printers of textbooks and booksellers are skimming off considerable profits – it seems that it would be the course of wisdom for education departments to invest more in technology facilities in schools.

It may also be prudent for individual schools to think what they can do to do away with textbooks.  Consider a few benefits:

E-texts are easy to update, hence learning resources will always be up to date.

E-books are much, much cheaper than their hard-copy counterparts.

Material presented in electronic format helps to keep the planet green.

We may still have textbooks with us for some time – but just as the abacus made way for the electronic calculator, textbooks will eventually become redundant.

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15 Comments to Bad news for school textbook vendors

Sunday, 9 August, 2009

Kobus this notion is the reality to come!

The wonderful and colourful Abacus is presently in a Museum …. and the calculator in the classroom doing the same work better. I foresee that this will also happen with textbooks too !

The Grade 12 learner is carrying a few kg of “paper” with him / her per day from classroom to classroom to home and the next day back to school again (hopefully the homework was done and the text added in books added to the “weight” of the schoolbag – perhaps !!).

Research done, proved that scoliosis (curvature of spine, thus an excessive sideways curvature of the human spine) was aggrevate by the carrying a school bag in the “wrong way” but also the “wieght” that was added by the material inside – either in your hand or on your back the result is the same.

Picture this: all 8x textbooks (some 350pages), 100e A4 notes, 10x LeverArc folders, 9x A4 hardcover books, 5x plastic flip files, pencil case, ruler, eraser, Mathematical equipment and (well not your lunch box) on a single microchip – perhaps your future “brown leather schoolbag” will be in your watch – with all the “text / words” you need to know!!

There are already some South African companies with electronic “textbook” version available. The educational value and use of electronic textbooks on the EIAWB is endless !!

Albie Africana Books in CL Museum

Mark C
Monday, 10 August, 2009

I would like using e-books, but I’m just thinking about their effect on the environment. A thousand learners, a thousand e-reading devices and a few thousand batteries to be charged and recharged. Carbon-footprint or something, I remember was the buzz word a few motnhs ago. What happens to all these devices when they are outdated? Most people change their mobile phones within two years. What happens to the old ones? Think about the batteries (alkaline, mercury Li-NiCad), the gold used, mercury and other metal compounds in the e-devices. Who recycles these and can most parts of these electronic devices disintegrate safely when disposed of? We may be saving the environment in one way but we are harming it in other ways. I’m just thinking of what a throw-away, irresponsible society we have become. Processing, wasting and discarding paper is not environmentally friendly either, but at least there is a tree in the equation somewhere and I like trees.

E-books have many advantages and may be very convenient, but the flip-side of the coin is looking at its disadvantages. If we have a responsible way of using it and recycling e-books and e-devices, bring it on!

Monday, 10 August, 2009

E-books are already available. The technology is already in the schools. We just need to educate the “adults” how to use it!

Mark C
Monday, 10 August, 2009

Oops, I forgot this. I bought a Physics (paper) textbook from overseas and it had a CD with more resources attached. Also I had the option of registering on their site, making use of some of their resources. So, there you go.

Just a little free advertising if I may. Free pdf physics, chemistry and maths textbooks are available for download at These are written in South Africa. If you feel this is not enough and you want some university physics text books then can help. We are making these available to schools via CD. This is maybe not the best way of distributing or presenting it but it is a start for us in the developing world.Are the schools using it? I don’t know.

Marius Pretorius
Monday, 10 August, 2009

Like Mark C I am a bit skeptical with regards to a textbook-less school. The paperless office was a much vaunted possibility not so long ago. Nowadays hardly anybody speaks about it. Whereas there are many advantages of having information in electronic format rather than printed format, the reality is that more paper than ever is now used in offices since it is so easy just to click on the ‘print’ button.

As a teacher I often feel frustrated about the limitations that printed textbooks have. They quickly become outdated, especially in the computer field. There are other fields where one would like to use information that is current, such as Mathematical Literacy that deals with real life issues. There probably are many more such instances that can be listed.

Is the electronic reader the solution? Would it do away with textbooks? It is definitely a nice to have. I doubt though that it would do away with textbooks. There would probably be some combination of the two. Just think of the excuses that learners would have for not learning for their tests: “My reader’s batteries were flat”; “My reader’s screen broke”; “All my e-books were deleted”; “My reader had a virus” (Not sure if this is at all possible – learners may use it as an excuse anyway and some teachers would believe it ;-); “My reader was stolen with all my e-textbooks on it” (especially in RSA) etc. Think of what a whale of a time many learners would have reading the latest adventure story (let’s not move into the prurient) on their reader instead of having the history text on the screen during a history lesson.

Textbook writers should realize the need that current learners have (especially in the age of the online, connected generation) of up-to-date information, and write textbooks with that in mind. They could write a core textbook with information that is relatively static and provide an ‘update’ section, much like software providers do. This should be much cheaper for schools to buy than a whole new textbook.

I personally think that as teachers become more Internet savvy and connected they will source information as they need it and become less reliant on textbooks. They can ‘piece’ together the necessary information. (There is a need for copyright training with regards to this. What may be copied and printed and what not? How far may you go with using other people’s work when it comes to education?) They will still provide a printed textbook as backup.

Dwayne Bailey
Monday, 10 August, 2009

Someone still needs to write the textbooks of course.

I don’t think the publishers are milking this anymore then the education departments already allow them to. After all the education department could write them themselves and publish them themselves but they don’t. So either they should or the reality is that the publishing industry is being rewarded for taking the risk. covering costs related to printing, distribution, storage, writing, etc, and other costs that the education departments simply don’t want to shoulder. Seems like a good deal to me. Unless of course the departments aren’t very good negotiators.

The question I’d be asking first before looking at electronics are these:
1) Is the quality of print material for our textbooks too high? Look at low quality paper and production. Like in India and Egypt where books can cost R5.
2) Why we want material sourced overseas that has very high royalties.

My daughters school wanted to upgrade their reading system. R50 a book! But someone is Oz gets those bucks. On low quality paper and with open content you should be able to use R50 to print a learners whole set of books for the year.

Granville Petersen
Monday, 10 August, 2009

The technology is available,why not make use of it. Children, the new generation is fast learners so expose them to this technology. I’m for it. In our disadvantaged (poor)communities the process of e-books introduction will be very slow, so books will still be needed, but this must not keep us from exposing our learners and parents to this kind of technology.

Charles Pearce
Tuesday, 11 August, 2009

As with most things, compromise and moderation should be the order of the day. Surely the two will come to complement each other in the end!

Dereck Marnewick
Tuesday, 11 August, 2009

I think that readers of this blog should take careful note of what Mark, Maruis and Charles have to say.

David Mathe
Wednesday, 12 August, 2009

While the two media can complement one another, it can only be done up to a point. I am doing my studies through a local institution and the average price of one prescribed book is about R450.And if one is doing eight modules per semester with an average of two prescribed books per module the amount can become quite substantial, especially for the unemployed. As chance would have it, i stumbled across an electronic version of one of the prescribed books which i downloaded and am using without paying much, if anything.

If we are serious about bridging the digital divide, we need to become proponents and adherents of the electronic revolution within our schools.

Marius Pretorius
Friday, 14 August, 2009

@David Mathe
Of course you are right David. The scenario I was commenting about, was the school textbook situation. The tertiary situation is totally different, since adults are much more responsible – hopefully.

I too would have nothing against using an electronic reader myself. In fact, I would prefer it!

Jan mostert
Sunday, 13 September, 2009

Ek reken dat die teks boek moet eerder aanvullend wees. Lees programme is egter nou baie belangrik. Miskien daar sagteware ontwikkel word, soos die tikprogramme, waar ons die leerders ook kan leer om vinnnig op die rekenaar te lees.

Rekenaars moet nie as ‘n bedreiging gesien word nie maar eerders as ‘n STERK hulpmiddel. Die voordeel is om kennis altyd op datum te hou.

Dereck Marnewick
Saturday, 10 October, 2009

Well the fact that the National Education Department has once again emphasised the vital role of good textbooks …

Tuesday, 30 March, 2010

Set your own life time easier get the mortgage loans and everything you want.

Tuesday, 21 September, 2010

Thanks for a fascinating column. Nice work, nice read!

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