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Why South Korea Is Putting the Brakes on the Switch to Digital Textbooks

The reversal is surprising given that South Korea, like the United States, tends to view technology adoption as a sign of successful schools.

Last summer, South Korea's Education Ministry announced plans to replace hardback textbooks with electronic readers and digital editions by 2015, at a cost of $2.4 billion. But after South Korean educators expressed concerns about the potential negative effects of too much screen time, the government is putting the brakes on going fully digital.

According to The Washington Post, the South Korean government has backed off the plan to switch first- and second-grade classrooms to electronic readers, so 6- and 7-year-olds will stick with bound books. Older students will make the switch, but they'll still have access to ink-and-paper books as well.

The reversal is surprising given that leaders in South Korea, like in the United States, tend to view technology adoption as a sign of successful schools. But this isn't a case of teachers demonstrating the kind of tech phobia American educators mocked on Twitter last winter with the #PencilChat hashtag.

Because much of the technology children are using is new, there aren't yet studies about the impact of so much screen time on brain development. But researchers do know, for example, that college students who were forced to go without media for 24 hours—no TV, no gaming, no internet, and no instant messaging—experienced symptoms similar to drug withdrawal. And an estimated 10 percent of South Korean children demonstrate symptoms of video game addiction, psychologists say. Those types of concerns have prompted a backlash against technology in school—even some Silicon Valley executives are sending their children to tech-free Waldorf schools where the emphasis is on play-based learning and storytelling.

South Korea isn’t the only education system that's been considering going fully digital in the classroom; Florida also plans to switch to e-readers by 2015. While that may seem like a wise move in response to the absurd price tags on printed textbooks, perhaps concerns about tech overload are a worthy consideration in the States, too.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user flickingerbrad

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