South Korea to replace textbooks with digital by 2015

South Korea, the world’s most wired nation, has announced it expects to replace all paper textbooks with electronic tablets at its state-run schools by 2015.

The country’s education ministry said it is to spend 2.2 trillion won (£1.29bn) to convert existing school textbooks and develop cloud computing systems to provide digitised content for learning. The ministry said it expects students to download all material previously sourced from paper textbooks on a variety of platforms including “smart pads, smart TVS, and a variety of digital devices”. Families on low incomes will be provided with subsidised tablets it said. “We don't expect the shift to digital textbooks to be difficult as students today are very accustomed to the digital environment,” said a ministry official, quoted in Korean newspaper the Chosunilbo.

Korean students at all levels are already experimenting with state schemes that are testing the practicalities. Since spring 2008, hundreds of elementary school students have been using digital textbooks on tablet-like, foldable Fujitsu PCs, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy Tabs, and interacting with teachers online through wireless networks. South Korea has the fastest broadband connections globally, seven times the world average.

The original digital textbook scheme, backed initially by 66 billion won three years ago, has now been extended across the country as part of a project to create “smart schools” the ministry said. Material includes features such as video, animation, virtual reality and hyperlinks.

“South Korea’s transition to a totally networked society has profound implications for the publishing industry," said James F Larson, author of The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea. "Already digital books account for more than 20 percent of all books sold in this country.”

According to the Korean Publishers Association, Koreans purchased over $176m-worth of e-books last year (£109.5m), and expects sales to triple by 2013.