Handheld Technology

Part 1, eBooks: Education, Larger Print & Society

In the first part of this two-part series on eBooks we look at how this electronic method of accessing information can help society

One of most boringly memorable textbooks of my secondary education was probably the Tricolore series for learning French. Dog eared, compulsorily-thumbed copies - brimming with comedy 70s hairdos, stories about La Rochelle, and some depressively long verb tables - haunted British schoolrooms through the 90s. In fact I’m sure some of my most tedious life hours were spent desperately attempting to memorise irregular verbs in the run up to my GCSE exams.

This is a ‘first world’ perspective, of course, but probably summarises the clear promise of eBooks in the West. These are lovely, clean electronic information sources. They are far easier to update than printed material saving children of the future from the dodgy costumes of 2014…. and all those previous owners’ graffiti additions.

Yet above all they should help bring education – especially a language – alive through spoken word, songs...  and perhaps, some slightly more engaging versions of those mind blowing verb tables. In fact, throw gamification and all the modern social media elements into the mix and these could become extremely interesting platforms for learning; helping kids to actually want to learn.


Beyond First World Problems

In Sierra Leone at the moment, where literacy is rated at a shockingly poor 47thin Africa according to the African Economist, the government is looking at a ‘flipped classroom teaching model’. This is based on the idea of using of ICT to develop learning materials that students could use outside the classroom, ideally on cheap solar-powered tablets. Imagine the difference that could make. The quality of the materials created could have a genuine impact on the future of the country.

In India, Apurva Ashar has founded e-shabda the local language eBook section of enterprise and IT solutions company Cygnet Infotech Pvt Ltd.  He believes eBooks’ potential for children goes beyond formal education: “We have [a lot of] Indian language young children born in other countries,” he says. “They speak Guajarati in their own home but they don’t read it. I see a lot of scope for interactive books which contain audio as well as the script. [This would definitely be a benefit] for the sake of a small child. [It would] help bring them back to their roots.”


Why eBooks are Not Yet Mainstream

Alicia de Wet a a freelance editor, proofreader and publishing project manager based in Johannesburg, South Africa believes “the eBook market is actually struggling to get ahead” and that in education “eBooks are being phased in very slowly and that there are a lot more room for growth.”  However, she quantifies “I also don’t think that eBooks, at the moment, are what is best for the markets. A lot of time needs to be spent to make books appealing and more user-friendly.”

The potential for eBooks, especially in education is phenomenal. However, de Wit is concerned that the format does not yet support existing text, which means that these materials can be messy. Canadian author, Alessandro Cassa (French languages blog), agrees with this broader point. “eBooks, [have the potential to be] much more than only a “non-paper version” and need to be adapted in education [for highlighting the] specific objectives of learning.”

Sophie Tergeist who is commissioning editor at, an organisation that supplies free academic and business eBooks, which is financed by a few in-book ads, quantifies that eBooks “are still in an early stage.” In her experience, speaking with professors of tertiary education in various European countries “university libraries are happy to acquire electronic articles and books, but these are not being particularly promoted yet.”

“It's also a question of financial means,” she continues, “educators need to be sure that their students can access the right textbook at all times. Because of library subscriptions and limited access, this can sometimes be difficult.  I definitely believe that as eBooks are becoming accessible through all devices and are improving their features, and considering the high prices of printed textbooks in addition to the now higher costs of higher education, eBooks will be in higher demand and educators will choose this medium over print.”

The majority of people appear to be in agreement that eBooks are here to stay and whilst only time will tell exactly how they develop, it is clear that they will play a big part in education of tomorrow. But that is not the only way eBooks can benefit society. They can also help those at the other end of the scale: the old.


The Benefits for Older People

“Older people are [often] more receptive to eBooks than the young, which was a big surprise element that I had,” Ashar tells IDG Connect. “Last year I had a call from a 75 year old lady who desperately wanted to read Guajarati books on her tablet. The reasons that she gave me were, she found it difficult to read in small type, so [the electronic format meant] she could increase the size, the other was that she is travelling to see her grandchildren in USA so she would like to take all her long books with her.”

The ability to increase the size of the font on eBooks is a big deal. Alicia de Wet who has also been involved as a marketer and fundraiser at a school for hearing impaired learners adds:  “When eBooks have evolved to a point where these [current] issues are eradicated, it will become the preferred choice of learning tool for learners with disabilities.”

eBooks have the potential to improve people’s lives around the globe.  They are already changing the way we can access information and even the way we see books themselves. And maybe Ashar helps conclude for book lovers everywhere?  “I grew up with books in my house. For me books were an entity, I could talk to them. I never thought I would stop caring for them and get into something that was new. I was surprised at myself when I started loving eBooks.”

“At a young age I was diagnosed with cataracts and then I realised it is difficult for a person to read a book in small print. So that changed my perception… and I started looking at books in a different way.”


Read Part 2, eBooks: Multiple Tiers of Professional Luddites, tomorrow.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect




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