Taiwan plans to roll out e-readers in schools

Taiwan's Ministry of Education plans to offer e-readers to schoolkids on the island next year as part of efforts to further digitize schools and promote reading.

The e-readers are part of a five-year, NT$50 billion (US$1.55 billion) budget earmarked for information technology in classrooms. Currently the ministry is reviewing designs for e-readers and doesn't yet know how many it will purchase for next year, a representative said.

The only e-reader displayed at the Ministry of Education's booth at the IT Month exhibition in Taipei on Monday was a color e-reader designed by Aiptek International for young children. The Aiptek inColor e-reader has an 8-inch color screen and 1GB of flash memory for storage. It comes with 20 multimedia e-books pre-installed and costs NT$6,900 (US$213) in Taiwan, according to Hsu Fang-chi, a media representative at Aiptek.

The company is planning a touchscreen version of the e-reader. There are already 108 e-books available for the inColor on Aiptek's Web site. The company offers both English and Chinese-language books.

Currently the inColor is on sale in Taiwan and China, but it can be purchased via Aiptek's Web site or through representative offices in Europe and the U.S., said Hsu.

This year, the ministry focused on putting digital chalkboards in math, science and language classrooms in Taiwan schools.

The HaBoard interactive whiteboard has an 82-inch touchscreen so teachers can write on them, make changes to images on the screen, or call up further information, said Ivan Huang, a representative of HaBook Information Technology, the maker of the device.

The classrooms making use of the HaBoard also provide touchscreen monitors to groups of kids in each class, usually one screen for every five or six kids, he said. The purpose of the touchscreen monitors is to make the class more interactive, so kids can look up additional information or answer questions about the subject the teacher is currently reviewing.

Each HaBoard costs NT$50,607 (US$1,565) alone, and other devices designed to work with it are also available. One useful device is the AverVision 300AF, an image-capture device that inputs images onto the HaBoard. It comes with a variety of attachable cameras, including a microscope, so kids can see science projects at the cellular level.

The education ministry's representative said the HaBoard is already installed in schools throughout Taiwan.

Taiwan also has an NT$80 billion budget from a stimulus plan that is meant to battle the global recession and aimed at education. The Intelligent Taiwan budget is aimed at strengthening schools, including by eliminating the gap between rural and urban students as well as the digital divide, the term used to describe differences in learning based on accessibility to computers and the Internet.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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