By the book | Monocle

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We’re mostly fans of the textbooks of our youth (some youths are further away than others, but none were on papyrus, put it that way) and even the books that struck fear into us then can be remembered fondly now. But the media of education is changing: laptops and tablets are common in many classrooms and headteachers are realising that if they can’t force their charges to ditch their smart-phones in class, they might as well download some lessons onto them – a Latin vocab app might sound like the perfect punchline to a common-room joke, but it might just be the future.

So, for our education issue, Monocle looks beyond the laptop to flag-up five learning trends, while inspecting the educational media marketplace of the not-so-humble textbook in Lebanon, a country where languages, customs and even a disputed history make for interesting reading. The future looks fine, just don’t forget that carrying someone’s schoolbooks is still the best way to really learn the facts of life. Try doing that with a virtual blackboard.


Let’s get digital

The South Korean Ministry of Education has announced that all school textbooks will be transferred to digital form by 2015. The KRW2.2trn (£1.29bn) scheme is part of a Smart Education Plan that includes building a cloud-computing network to allow students to access books via smartphones or laptops. “Internet learning sticks with you more than class learning. In class there are so many distractions,” says Yewon Lee, a third-year high-school student in Daejeon.

Top of the class?
The future-perfect Koreans are the right people to pioneer a digital classroom and exporting their expertise would be a good way of repaying their own investment.


Sound systems

Sistemas are integrated learning systems developed in Brazil. Publishers don’t just print the textbook, they also provide a range of activities including teacher training, print and digital content, and finding the right tech for classrooms. Cristiane Pizzato, managing director for Dom Bosco, a provider of such systems, notes that they offer “a flexible range of materials”.

Top of the class?
This sort of top-down inclusiveness is typical of current Brazilian thinking – but they need to ensure their bright ideas reach all levels of society.


Another dimension

Many a law student has arrived on their first day of school, dreams of CSI and Ally McBeal filling their heads, only to be met with a 3,000-page textbook. Criminal Justice Interactive (CJI) is a course with a difference. Its game-like 3D interface puts students in real-life scenarios – what Susan Aspey, a representative for Pearson, the product’s publisher, calls “edutainment”. We’ll let that one pass for now. “The simulations give students a safe, engaging environment in which to apply what they’ve learnt… it takes learning beyond the rote memorisation of facts,” Aspey says.

Top of the class?
This seems like a great way to learn a language. But do we want all our lawyers practising advocacy over knowing statute?


On a role

Teachers have always said that learning can be fun – and that might be coming true. Japanese textbook publisher Gakko Tosho has teamed up with video- games developer Namco Bandai to create adventure-game textbooks for science, maths and Japanese studies. Students solve problems at the end of each chapter while taking part in an adventure role-playing game. The series is touted as “challenging the evolution of educational textbooks” and “giving a solid knowledge base to the next generation”. Perhaps Japanese kids will trade in their World of Warcraft alias in favour of an arithmetic hero.

Top of the class?
Japan’s idea of learning-as-game – see Nintendo’s recent developments – makes it into the classroom.


Picture perfect

Taking the “picture is worth a thousand words” line, the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) in India is making textbooks more visual than textual, with beautiful bright watercolours accompanying maths equations and Hindu studies. “Older textbooks were full of content to be read and memorised, it was not child-centred. These new books were made to be something children want to read,” says Hemant Kumar, a PR representative from NCERT. Of course, the visuals aren’t just for aesthetics’ sake. “Each picture must be informative. Nothing is drawn without purpose.”

Top of the class?
We’re always a fan of beautifully illustrated books – and these are essential in a country divided by a hundred regional languages. But let’s not lose the written word in a fast-changing nation.

Keeping it old school


At esteemed publishing house Librairie Orientale (see selection below), Maroun Nehme continues his father’s legacy, printing and distributing all kinds of books. “Schoolbooks are a very fragmented sector,” he says. “A lot depends on the socio-economic and sectarian background.” Arabic grammar and reading textbooks are bestsellers, partly because everyone can see eye-to-eye – unlike modern history, a subject that was stopped in the public system. “No one could agree on a common curriculum,” says Nehme.

Librairie Orientale works with French publishers such as Hachette on co-editions for countries including Algeria and Morocco. “The content is slightly changed to add local colour,” says Samar Abou Zeid, who worked until this summer at the publisher Antoine. “But not as much as in the Gulf where censors are tough.”

Lebanese teachers based in the Gulf keep ordering textbooks made in Lebanon. “The Lebanese travel a lot, and this is how the Lebanese school textbook has gained momentum,” says Nehme.

But the publishers have not yet embraced the e-book revolution. “In France, many teachers have to download their material,” says Choueiri. “In Lebanon, teachers who use imported French textbooks refuse to do this, so local publishers have signed deals to print these textbooks and turn them into books.”

Lebanese schoolbooks cater to a wide public, often following separate curriculums in different languages. While public schools are stocked with subsidised textbooks provided through the Ministry of Education, private institutions can pick and choose from the local publishing industry, as well as imported titles, coming mostly from France. The price gap is immense. “If you buy local editions, the entire list of books required in a public school can be the price of one imported textbook,” says Michel Choueiri, president of the International Association for Importers of French Books (AIF), who also manages a bookstore in Beirut.

Wise words, nicely written:

There’s something beguiling about these Arabic and French language textbooks that incorporate contemporary learning in a slightly old-fashioned environment. No “interfaces” here; just compelling pages of illustration and beautiful script, printed on paper and as portable as only a book can be. The Arabic vocab series is a charmingly innocent adventure in souk-shopping.

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