Could e-books ease our Textbook Rental Programme woes?

Whew! Students got their free laptops on time this year. But not their textbooks. The idea behind the Ministry of Education's Textbook Rental/Loan Programme (TRP) is simple enough: a number of core textbooks are identified and bought by the Ministry, distributed to the schools, loaned to each student and returned by students to the schools at the end of the academic year.

The Ministry of Education website describes its Textbook Rental/Loan Programme (TRP) as "part of the Ministry’s efforts towards achieving equity in the provision of educational opportunities and towards equalizing the playing field in the access of education".

And in an ideal world, the TRP would provide textbooks and other educational resources and ensure that all students have easy affordable access to the learning materials required for the core curriculum areas. At least, that's the suggestion of this 2005 piece in the Trinidad Guardian.

So what went wrong? Well, bid-rigging in the selection process, for starters. And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Education Minister Dr. Tim Gopeesingh may have put it best when, after an investigation into the TRP, he described his findings as the opening of Pandora's Box.

But I only mention the failings of the TRP in order to highlight the significant opportunity that the unfortunate situation now presents for advancing the integration of ICT in Education into the national public education policy framework.

The Ministry of Education is certainly moving in the right direction so far. It has done well to start and sustain a national laptop distribution programme. According to this Trinidad Express report, "17,300 laptops" were this year distributed to Form One pupils at a total roll-out cost "US$9,108,424".

A Newsday report on the signing of a contract between the Ministry of Education and the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) for the use of the language learning software, Rosetta Stone, in teaching Spanish in the nation’s schools, describes the initiative as "part of the ministry’s drive to achieve a 'seamless education system', which will provide the nation’s students with a competitive edge in the global technological society".

But with all these strides being taken in the direction of State-directed incorporation of ICT in Education, shouldn't we be hearing more about the incorporation of e-books into the nationwide curriculum?

Ask Korea, where the government recently announced that, by 2015, the entire curriculum will be digitised, removing the financial burden of thick textbooks that weigh on children's shoulders.

Or ask Uruguay about the possibilities of one-to-one computing.

Hey, you might as well brush up on your Spanish if you have access to one of the Ministry's new Rosetta Stone-equipped machines. After all, you--and your kids--already paid for them!