The world we live in today is not the same one we were in ten years ago. Now, everything is digital and technologically driven. We have smartphones that allow us to connect to the internet almost instantly. We have DVRs that record our favorite shows so we do not have to miss them. We have fitness trackers that track our every move and report how many steps we took and how many calories we burned. We have tablets, e-readers, and laptops, all of which are designed to make our lives more convenient. So why, with all of the technological innovations intended to make our lives easier, are our children still carrying backpacks filled with heavy textbooks?
Over the past 15 years, the weight of textbooks has been an exceedingly popular issue. According to a New York Times article, Weighing School Backpacks by Tara Parker-Pope, the average middle school student’s backpack weighs 18.4 pounds, while some weighed as much as 30 pounds. If Georgia could transition its 181 school districts from traditional textbooks to electronic texts, students would be able to have all their books in a two pound tablet or laptop computer. Not only will making the switch save our students backs, but it will save our wallets, too.
The United States Federal Communication Commission (FCC) states that we spend more than $8 billion a year on textbooks. Still, too many students are using books that are 7-10 years old and contain outdated information. Having textbooks provided on tablets or laptop computers would allow for updates and edits to be made instantly without the added cost or wait of printing. Electronic texts provide the opportunity to introduce more dynamic content, videos, interactive learning and gamification into classrooms throughout the state.
In order to successfully make the transition from traditional paper textbooks to electronic texts, the legislature is willing and ready to assist the 181 local school districts pay for any additional costs by allocating funding using the textbook bond money. The FCC goes on to say that switching to a digital classroom can save schools between $250-$1,000 per student per year, and with the cost of tablets and laptops continuing to decrease, acquiring the technology is easier and more affordable. By providing students with a take home tablet or laptop, we will be able to ensure students have the equipment necessary to succeed.
The U.S Department of Education, along with the National Training and Simulation Association, have found the leveraging technology can improve student engagement, achievement and learning productivity. Technology-based learning has also been proven to
reduce the time students spend learning each objective by 30 to 80 percent. These numbers are speak for themselves and will help our teachers effectively cover more information during the school year.
Many schools, states, and districts have transitioned from traditional classrooms to digital learning environments equipped with smart boards and computers. Currently, Florida is the first state to mandate the adoption of digital learning tools in all public schools starting in 2015. California and Utah both provide students with free digital textbooks in specific courses including math and science. Maine provides all students in the public school system with a laptop. The San Diego Unified school district and Georgia’s iAchieve Virtual Academy provide students with the opportunity to be engaged in digital classrooms. We are beginning to see technology in classrooms become more widespread throughout the nation. Georgia has the opportunity to improve our education system and it’s time we do it.
Technology can not only prepare our students for the business world, but it’s also the great equalizer whether you live in a suburban, urban or rural environment. I plan on introducing the Digital Classroom Act in January and hope we can see this transition take place by 2020. This time frame will allow all schools, in all corners of the state to gain access to high speed internet. Georgia can take a step forward and become the national leader in k-12 education by providing its students with the educational tools and high-tech skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century.
Sen. John Albers represents the 56th Senate District which includes portions of North Fulton and Cherokee counties.