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US school succumbs to paperless madness

Books binned in favour of IT

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An Arizona school has dispensed entirely with textbooks and has spunked its entire book budget on student laptops, the BBC reports.

Empire High School used to spend around $500 per head on text books. Instead, it spent roughly $800 a pop on Apple iBooks. Mercifully, it still has some books lying around, as Vail School district chief superintendent, Calvin Baker, explains: "There are no text books other than a couple on the shelf for teachers to use as resource. We still have a library - we are not anti-books. We have a library and we encourage students to use it, but the primary delivery of instruction materials is being done through the laptops."

Baker continues: "Every class is a little bit different. Some classes are relying primarily on a service, where you need a password to get to it. Some classes' teachers are using electronic text books as a resource - not as a primary tool but as a resource and then a lot of our classes are relying very heavily on simply free material that is available on the internet."

And here's the crunch: "When you are using or selecting a text book, it is an all or nothing package. The beauty of the internet is that it allows teachers for every unit to go out and pick the material that they believe is absolutely relevant for that particular topic," enthuses Baker.

Marvellous. Any downsides to the plan? Not according to Baker, who reckons that students will treat their kit with the utmost respect because they're allowed to keep their (legally obtained we have no doubt) music collections on the laptops: "That's a very valuable part of their life, and that is where their collection is, and so they take pretty good care of it just because it is something that is personally important to them."

Hmmm. What about the old "dog ate my laptop" ploy. No good, says Baker: "That's a hard one to use because everything is backed up continually on our server at school."

Well, we can all see where this is going. Server crashes, laptops trashed, chequebook out, budget takes a nosedive...

Fair enough; tech-savvy kids, surfing their way to educational redemption, yihaa! But what the hell is wrong with books, bits of paper and pencils? It's low-tech, it's cheaper and it's proven technology. Mind you, they've still got the library for when the server gets hacked by some ne'er-do-well looking to improve his grades the easy way, if the students can find their way there without consulting Google Maps. ®

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