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Feeling the pain of the switch to ebooks

THOUSANDS of secondary-school children are set to embrace the switch to electronic school books this September. School bags will be lighter as electronic devices replace heavy books, but parents are set to bear a big economic burden as more schools go digital.

Some 22,000 pupils in 120 schools are expected to use electronic texts, or ebooks, this year.

Half of these will be first years starting their journey through secondary school.

Despite ebooks being cheaper than traditional printed texts, parents of children with electronic learning devices will find themselves having to shell out more for first years because of the high upfront cost of buying the electronic device.

And most schools are choosing Apple iPads, which are far more expensive than other electronic devices.

It costs between €600 and €800 to buy an iPad for a student – a price that includes the device, leather cover and the ebooks for most, but not all, the subjects covered in first year.

Director of education and technology services company Wriggle, Beryl Furlong, admits the cost is high.

"It is a big one-off expense and this is felt by parents and teachers in a lot of the schools getting the devices," she said.

Her company, which trains teachers to use and set up the devices and helps schools adapt to the new devices, is seeing demand mainly for expensive iPads rather than android devices.

"We sell every device but there has not been a demand for anything other than iPads," Ms Furlong said.

She said school managements were choosing the Apple product as it was the "route of least pain" for them. There was far less likely to be issues around viruses and malware with an iPad, she said.

She denied that there were any incentives being offered by Apple or by resellers to encourage a take-up of Apple devices.

Apple did not respond to Irish Independent queries on why it was charging school children so much for its devices.

Ebooks are far cheaper to produce than traditional printed books, as publishers do not have to cover the cost of printing, storage and distribution.

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But valued added tax (VAT) at 23pc means the savings on ebooks only amount to at most 20pc.

This means parents face paying €14 for a one-year licence for a history ebook. The equivalent printed text is €24.

The other drawback of the ebook is that it cannot be passed on to a sibling.

On the plus side, the shift to electronic devices means that children are embracing technology which is increasingly all-pervasive in life.

And studies show that there are huge educational benefits to learning with the help of a device as opposed to a text book and workbook.

According to Ms Furlong, academic studies have found that electronic devices make learning more engaging, especially for boys.

This is particularly true in second year where boys, in particular, tend to disengage, she says.

The fact that ebooks include videos and aural clips broadens the learning experience. For example, you can use an iPad app to read you out the 'Le Monde' newspaper in French as you follow the text on the screen.

But going electronic provides challenges to parents in terms of monitoring their child's use of the device.

Schools tend to pre-load software to stop children downloading any applications that are unsuitable. And the use of unsuitable internet sites on school premises can be restricted.

But parents need to get on top of parental filter and protections in the home to block inappropriate websites being accessed.

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