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Vietnam: Government to spend close to US$200mn for e-textbooks in HCMC

Parents will have to foot a fraction of the cost for their children.
EdChron Desk on August 23, 2014 - 2:28 pm in Asia, EdNews, MAIN, Science & Tech, World

 

ASIA/ Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam – While Thailand is still reeling from its poor investments in its “One Tablet per Child” policy, Vietnam is steamrolling a plan that will cost them close to $200 million dollars – an amount even more developed asian countries such as Singapore, Japan and Korea have not chosen to splurge.

According to Thanh Nien News, students in the city of Ho Chi Minh is expected to pay “between VND 3 million and 5 million (US$141 – 236) each for tablet devices if a proposal on “e-textbooks and tablets for primary students” is approved for the coming school year.”

The proposal, introduced by the city education department at a conference held Monday, will cost around VND 4 trillion ($189 million) in total to “bring around 300,000 first, second and third grade students into special e-classes,” according to a draft of the new law. Parents will have to foot a fraction of the cost for their children.

Replacing 300 textbooks with one e-book

The project aims to provide every student with a tablet with pre-installed textbook content and everything will be done on the tablet, from classroom tasks to assignments. It will replace traditional blackboards with interactive boards. This would require wifi connection which classes will be installed with and teachers are expected to use the software to compile lesson plans, manage classes and have overriding control on what students can do on their tablets.

Unlike the US and UK where competition between educational publishers remain high, Vietnam’s sole school print textbook publisher – Vietnam Education Publishing House – will also monopolize the digital textbook market in Vietnam, said Tuoi Tre News. Intel Corp is reported to be the training provider if the project goes through.

Previous costly interactive whiteboards now white elephants

Advanced International Company (AIC), the consultant working on the proposal, said that the company has “visited other countries to seek advice in order to deploy the program.” The Hanoi-based company was awarded a contract to supply around 1,000 sets of interactive whiteboards at highly inflated prices last school year, Thanh Nien reported.

A survey conducted by Thanh Nien in May found that the interactive whiteboards supplied to hundreds of schools in Ho Chi Minh City since the beginning of this school year were purchased at a price of VND180 millions ($8,510) per board, 2.2 to 3.6 times their market price. Teachers and school administrators said they either didn’t know how to use them or didn’t want to, according to the website.

The investigation in May also found that the whiteboards were mainly used as digital projectors or even decorations for school libraries.

Concerns raised by teachers, principals and school districts

While the idea of an e-textbook that contain over 300 printed textbooks in such a small device is amazing in theory, educators are hesitant about the idea and plan to adopt a wait-and-see approach until more details are apparent. Their concerns include from the basics (will tablets harm children’s health? how can the poor afford it?) to the technical requirements (what will the warranty cover? How is the durability of the e-book?) to curriculum (how will the textbook content be updated?).

But the biggest question pertains to implementation of such a wide-scale project – how will the government implement the rollout?

Thailand’s One Tablet per Child Policy failed

In 2012, the Thai government signed with a Chinese firm a contract to supply 400,000 tablets. The contract’s initial cost was estimated at $32.8 million (1.02 billion THB). The full contract for 930,000 tablets would have brought the total value of the agreement to $75.7 million.

However the failure of suppliers to deliver on the orders and the zonal logistical nightmare meant only a small fraction of the tablets were delivered. The Chinese manufacturer finally cancelled the deal after having to pay hefty daily penalty fees.

While it is hoped Vietnam will succeed in such an implementation, in a country where more than 10% of the population lives in poverty and the average monthly salary of a teacher is below $200 there seems to be a misalignment between the needs and wants in education.

What do you think of Vietnam’s plan to spend $200 million dollars on e-textbooks?

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