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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Samsung Windfall: All of South Korea's Textbooks to Go Digital by 2015

South Korea will redefine primary school education within three years while creating a massive market for home-grown electronics

  • July 1, 2011

By 2014, all of South Korea’s elementary-level educational materials will be digitized, and by 2015, the entire school-age curriculum will be delivered on an array of computers, smart phones and tablets. While the country’s education ministry is yet to announce the make or model of the devices it will purchase, it has revealed it will spend $2.4 billion buying the requisite tablets and digitizing material for them.

Some schools on the peninsula are already using textbooks displayed on notebook computers, but when it comes to choice of tablets, how likely is it that the government will choose the iPad or any other tablet other than those manufactured by South Korean electronics giant Samsung, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab or some larger variant of it?

This move also re-ignites the age-old debate about whether or not students learn better from screens or printed material. Equally important, there’s the issue of whether or not devices with smaller form factors are as effective as current textbooks, which tend to have significantly more area on each page.

The now-defunct Kno is the only tablet to take on the textbook in its original dimensions

That might sound like a trivial detail, but before it abandoned its hardware aspirations, the makers of the Kno tablet made a pretty good case that if we’re going to replace textbooks with their digital equivalent, we need devices with something like four times the screen territory of the iPad:

What a student needs, according to Kno’s research, is something that faithfully reproduces a full-size textbook, without compromise. In contrast, the attempt to cram a textbook onto a smaller screen is a primary reason that previous trials with replacing textbooks with e-readers such as the Kindle DX were abject failures.

Whatever happens, this is potentially a huge windfall for Samsung. Students and governments are the ultimate captive audience. As long as their hardware and software continue to improve, they might not have to compete with Apple; this is a whole other niche.

h/t Paul Biba and Chris Walters at Teleread

Follow @Mims or contact him via email

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