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The e-book revolution is bypassing U.S. elementary schools

By Joe Mohen
February 11, 2013 07:47 AM ET

The leading online bookstores need to offer that functionality as well. In addition, they should work with the major textbook publishers (Addison-Wesley and the other Pearson companies, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) to make the textbooks that these companies publish available as e-books.

While they're at it, all parties should make sure that the e-books produced for schoolchildren have value-added features that will make them more functional. Again, profit is a great motivator; many parents would be willing to pay a premium for an e-book that allowed their children to easily have a word defined or pronounced, and that would be updated to correct errors and reflect changes in the scientific and political realms. No more science books that say there is no water on the moon, nor textbooks in use that still show Czechoslovakia as a single country! Even the next South Sudan could show up on a map as soon as it establishes its independence.

I don't think it's too much to ask for such things in a country as advanced as the U.S. Consider what is happening in South Korea.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment, South Korea is already far ahead of the U.S. in school performance. This gap will widen, in part because South Korean public policy will soon mandate pervasive use of electronic textbooks in public schools. By 2015, every South Korean student will get the most up-to-date textbooks and have access to these texts every day and night, all while saving their schools the cost of having to print, store and distribute print books that can quickly become obsolete. This will be true even in impoverished rural areas, and not just the posh Gangnam district of Seoul.

How do we compare with that? I live in an affluent school district, and none of that is available or even possible. How do you think things are going in less well-to-do districts?

We can learn a lot more from South Korea than how to dance Gangnam Style.

Joe Mohen is a serial entrepreneur who has started multiple Internet companies, including SpiralFrog, which secured groundbreaking licenses for free and legal downloads; ParishPay, which automated the handling of money for Catholic churches; and Proginet, where he helped create XCOM, a systems management product. In March 2000, as CEO of, he oversaw the world's only major election ever run on the internet, the Arizona Democratic Primary, in which voter turnout went up over 500%.

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