Reported in a column on ZDNet, it seems that the Governator has decided that instead of books, California high school students will be using some sort of electronic device to read their texts.

Governor Schwarzenegger has scrapped funding for textbook contracts in a bid to fill a massive budget gap of $24 billion, and aiming to introduce electronic readers to digitalise the classroom.

I couldn’t help but use the Terminator quote in this one.

The simple fact of the matter is, the governor is trying to cut down on spending due to the global financial crisis, a number of state issues within California and, quite honestly probably down to bad budget management. Instead of spending millions of dollars on books which, in this day and age, go out of date before they are even published, electronic readers such as the Kindle allow digital books to be downloaded at a cheaper cost and can be updated over the air when and where necessary.

Every high school student in California will be given access to Kindle-like devices, full of a standard spectrum of science, maths, physics, chemistry, earth sciences and more, according to the fact sheet available on the Governor’s website. The devices will hopefully be ready by the time of the next academic year, in Autumn/fall 2009.

While the possibility of improvements in accuracy must be acknowledged, much of what goes in textbooks is static, and does not change from year to year. Also, unless the state is planning on making some very expensive purchases, the readers will be in black and shades of grey. I don’t know about you, but I remember that having 4 color maps in geography was pretty important to my overall understanding of certain things, and that greyscale wasn’t all that great (I remember the NEC Multisync 2A, and though it was a great greyscale monitor, it too sucked on showing maps and similar things best shown using color.)

Beyond the grey facts, there are things that can be done with books that can’t be done with a reader, like immediate side by side comparison – totally impossible unless one has a reader for each subject.

This is one of those ideas that seems so forward looking at first, but in real life turns out to be a complete bad idea. It might save the state money, but how much frustration and learning difficulty will it cause?

Schwarzenegger also pointed out that digital textbooks “open the door to more interactive learning”. Whilst this is true, the fact that books have been around for longer than the majority of the sovereign states this world has. I am still skeptical of the idea that books are being slowly pushed out of the loop, and hope that at least traditional universities – Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh – will keep the fine collections they have accumulated for generations to come.

Knowledge is power – books still kick Kindle arse, in my honest opinion; especially in the UK where half the features don’t seem to work.

More interactive learning? Who does he think he is fooling? Not with any simple Kindle device.

The only thing I see that could be usable in this instance is a netbook. That would solve some of the problem, giving a color-correct representation of certain things, and have the added benefit of not being a closed mode. I don’t lie the Kindle model of making things non-storable on another medium – things purchased should always be available for use, not simply pushed aside when new information is needed.

Closed model is another reason to not use a Kindle, or anything like it. If the Governator wants to be innovative, he should make sure that decent quality, easily replaceable netbooks are what is used. That won’t completely solve the problem of no books, but it is a fair compromise.

Books have intrinsic value beyond their simple ability to store information. While not being able to search with an electronic index is not a feature of paper, there is a permanence that is not obtainable with digital products.

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