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Japan to test digital textbooks in schools from next April, with focus on English

The education ministry plans to start testing the use of digital textbooks at elementary and junior high schools nationwide in fiscal 2022, which begins next April.

The ministry plans to provide digital textbooks free of charge to elementary school fifth- and sixth-graders and junior high school students, mainly for English.

Private and public elementary and junior high schools will be eligible to participate, as well as special schools for children with disabilities where every student has their own tablet device.

The ministry aims to explore ways to take full advantage of the digital format through the experiment.

In the program, students will be given both digital and paper textbooks so that the ministry can study their distinctive roles and the effects of the introduction of digital textbooks. The ministry aims to introduce the use of digital textbooks fully in fiscal 2024.

The pandemic crisis has already prompted the use of tablet devices at schools, and over 90% of the country’s municipalities have finished distributing tablet devices to students.

Nonetheless, many schools are struggling to make full use of them in teaching.

Digital English textbooks, “which enable students to hear how to pronounce words, are expected to play a role different to that of paper textbooks,” a senior ministry official said.

The ministry also plans to see how effective they are in improving students’ listening skills.

Municipalities interested in using digital textbooks for subjects other than English will be allowed to pick one additional subject from mathematics, science, music, arts and crafts, technical arts, homemaking and health and physical education.

According to the ministry, digital textbooks for such subjects are expected to offer images and videos to help students understand course content.

In June this year, an expert panel at the ministry said it is necessary to use both paper and digital textbooks while aiming to introduce digital textbooks fully in fiscal 2024.

Based on the results of the experiment, the ministry will consider how to introduce digital textbooks in earnest.

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