South Korea takes the digital classroom one step further

Ready for school?  Good.  Now plug in your brain and download today’s lesson – er – maybe not quite yet.  Instead, how about bringing  your tablet to class? 

Online classes are now a common offering at colleges around the world, and that’s just the beginning of digital education.  South Korea has recently mandated that all elementary level textbooks be digitized by 2014, with middle and high school textbooks joining them by 2015.  But a mere digitization of paper textbooks is only the first step.  As part of the South Korean government’s $2.4 billion investment, broadband wireless access will be provided in all schools, allowing student to access their digital textbooks and store homework on a cloud network designed specifically for the country’s educational needs.

Digital textbooks would seem to be a huge improvement over their cumbersome paper counterparts.  More cost-efficient, lighter, and easy to navigate – sign me up!  However tablets lack essential functionality students need for them to be an effective all-in-one classroom tool.  Students need to take notes, read their textbook, check their planners, access old notes, and take online tests.  In other words, multi-task.  With that in mind I don’t think tablets will replace all school supplies just yet, but I would still prefer to take my laptop and an e-reader to class rather than my laptop and three heavy textbooks.

Of course, this move to a digital classroom isn’t without its pitfalls.  As a school, network security becomes an issue with the potential for 2,000+ high school students to be hacking firewalls to play games, exchanging passwords, and trying to get answers to tests from their teacher’s virtual files.  As for IT and network maintenance, a handful of school computer labs is a totally different world from each student having their own device that has to work within the school and contain all the correct software for their learning.     

Speaking of 2,000 tablets all running at once, that’s an awful lot of mobile bandwidth.  What happens when the entire student body goes online at once and takes down the wireless network?  Is school out for the day?

Even with these potential issues, South Korea’s move to a digital classroom seems to be the future of education.  If so, tablet PCs like the iPad could go from hot tech gadget to household essential.  And that would have a profound impact on the future of mobile networks.  Introduced only one year ago, over 25 million iPads have already been sold, along with millions of other tablets.  With that relatively small base of devices, the iPad already generates 1.03% of Internet traffic worldwide and 25% of U.S. mobile traffic.  Imagine the transformation in network traffic if every student in every home went to school with a tablet PC in their backpack.

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