Loreto students trying out a switch to ebooks

First-year students at Loreto Secondary School will have “tablet” computers instead of books next autumn – both to make the most of the technology and to take a huge weight off their backs.

First-year students at Loreto Secondary School will have “tablet” computers instead of books next autumn – both to make the most of the technology and to take a huge weight off their backs.

With school bags weighing up to 16 kilograms, it is an idea that parents are welcoming, said Loreto principal Colm Keher. Part of the aim is that it will allow more students to walk and cycle to school.

Loreto is one of two schools in Europe (the other being in the UK) who have signed up to use Samsung Galaxy tablets under a “Smart Schools” pilot programme run by the South Korean company.

Loreto’s 174 first-years will each have a Samsung Galaxy tablet with their textbooks in ebook form, and the company is providing 30 tablets, which will defer the cost as the school is spreading the discount among all the students, Mr Keher said.

It is also providing a “smart board” for one of the classrooms, which will link up with the tablets – an interactive element that is more beneficial than single, separate devices, the principal said.

The teacher will also be able to allow and block certain websites during class time, he noted.

There is still a question of cost at the moment, and Mr Keher said he is hopeful that the Government will examine the issue of VAT on ebooks – because while school textbooks are exempt from VAT, ebooks are not. “It is an anomaly that there is VAT on ebooks,” he said.

There is the worry that the tablets will be lost or damaged, but Mr Keher says it’s an issue with regular textbooks too. An advantage of an ebook, he said, is that even if a tablet is lost, the student will still own a licence for the ebook and will not have to buy a new one. And the tablets will be fitted with GPS software that can locate them if they are misplaced or stolen.

The idea of introducing the technology was an idea researched by a subcommittee of the school’s Parents Association, and it is something the school is keen to try, Mr Keher said.

“Having worked on this process for two years, there is a strong sense that this is the way to go. It is the future of education and it has the potential to bring a great benefit to our pupils,” he said.

And the issue of students carrying heavy textbooks every day, and the physical risks involved, is one of the main considerations.

“Ever since I came into teaching, this has been an issue. The only solution is the use of technology,” Mr Keher said.

“We are very conscious that there are very few kids walking and cycling to school. If it improves that alone, I think it would be worthwhile to do.”