Students at one class in Yangzhou Sanyuanqiao Elementary School are the first to use eBooks in the Chinese mainland. Zhao Jun / for China Daily
While eBooks lighten the load of backpacks and save trees, they still need some adjustments before becoming replacements for paper textbooks. Peng Yining reports from Yangzhou.
Twelve-year-old Tang Yin is one of the earliest students to test a digital textbook in China. The boy said he was a little disappointed when he received the monochromatic flat device in April this year, because he thought it should be a "super cool" laptop. But Tang still cherishes his new equipment like "protecting my eye," said the fifth grader. After all, not every student has the opportunity to use the eBook, which is worth 2,000 yuan ($294), he said.
The 50 eBooks, donated by Taiwan eBook manufacturer Chuanqi Photoelectric Technology in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, enables one class at Yangzhou Sanyuanqiao Elementary School to be the first group of students in the Chinese mainland to replace their regular textbooks with electronic ones. Out of 1,000 students, Tang's class was the lucky recipients.
"Our school could not afford the project without the company's donation," said Yuan Shishan, vice-headmaster of the primary school. Although the digital book is considered environmentally friendly, because it replaces paper books, and saves money in the long run, the price is much higher than most Chinese families can afford. Also, some technical defects, the inconvenience of taking notes and monochromatic display, make the eBook fail to meet the expectations of students and teachers.
"There's still a long way to go before the eBook really plays an important role in education," said the headmaster.
According to Yuan, the annual average income of a local family in Yangzhou is about 20,000 to 30,000 yuan, and neither the parents nor the school can afford the 2,000 yuan digital textbook.
During class breaks, children who aren't in Tang's class crowd around the windows of Tang's classroom, staring at the new gadget with admiration. "Sometimes I let them have a touch before I hand the eBook in," said Tang Yin.
The school doesn't allow the students to take their eBooks to their homes. The devices are handed in after class, and are locked in the headmaster's office.
"Fifty eBooks are worth nearly 100,000 yuan. They're the most valuable property in our school," said Yuan. "We can't take the risk that a child might break the device or lose it. Besides, we don't have money to buy replacements."
At Tongxin School, a school for migrant workers' children in Yangzhou, more than 1,000 primary pupils and junior high school students compete to grab four digital textbooks donated by eBook manufacturer Yangzhou EDO Technologies.
"Our students' parents are migrant workers, disabled people and rag pickers. It's difficult already for them to feed their family and save 360 yuan to send their children to our school for a semester," said Wan Lijuan, a math teacher and assistant headmaster of Tongxin School. "The company's donation gives students a chance to use the electronic studying equipment but they are too expensive to replace the physical textbook."
The company donated six eBooks, two of which are used by teachers. The other four are used by students who receive the highest score in the final examination this semester.
"Children are very excited about the reward. I've never seen them work so hard before," Wan said. But even the top four students will not own the devices. Each of them will share the eBook with other students and also won't be allowed to take it home, to avoid it getting broken or lost when a student moves or drops out due to the family's poverty, which frequently happens in the school.
"The students from poor families have little access to digital learning equipment, although people all claim we are in the digital age," the teacher said.
Tang Yin, right, reads a digital textbook with his classmates at the Sanyuanqiao Elementary School in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. Tang and his classmates are the first group of students on the Chinese mainland to have their regular textbooks replaced by electronic ones. Zhao Jun / for China Daily
eBooks catching on
In 2010, the sales of eBooks rocketed to three million in China, from 900,000 in 2009, according to a report from the General Administration of Press and Publication of China, which announced on July 7 an eBook project.
Yangzhou, a city once famous for block printing in the Tang Dynasty (AD618-907), now has become one of the world's biggest manufacturing bases of E-ink, which is electronic "ink" used on the eBook.
"The textbook market will be our target in the future, but not now," said Li Bailu, vice president of EDO. The company's three best sellers are worth 1,600, 2,000 and 3,000 yuan, according to Li, so most of its customers are white collars in developed areas.
"The eBook won't be accepted in schools unless its price reduces to 500 to 600 yuan," said Li. "The market in schools is surely huge, but we can't cut the cost, and we can't always donate the device to schools.