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Too soon for digital textbooks in Ontario: McGuinty

It'll be some years before Ontario follows California's lead and starts phasing out school textbooks to replace them with digital media, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.

Toronto trustee Michael Coteau wants the school board to start phasing out hard-copy textbooks in middle and secondary schools within five years to save publishing costs.

McGuinty said that will likely happen eventually, but he's worried not enough families are equipped to make the switch to electronic textbooks or other digital media.

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"I think that over time we are probably going to make a transition to more technology-based reading and learning for our students, but my fear is that at this point in time it may be a little premature," he said.

"I'm not comfortable (that) all kids have access to that in their homes right now. Until we can be assured of that, I'd be very reluctant to move ahead."

School boards can explore the idea to see if savings from not printing textbooks could be used to pay for netbooks or electronic book readers for students, added McGuinty.

"It's up to the board to take a look at those kinds of things," he said.

"I like the idea and I think it speaks to where we're going to go in the future, but I'm just not sure our families are all there right now."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced a program last year to have the cash-strapped state stop buying textbooks and instead give students free digital copies.

Schwarzenegger's plan calls for the state to develop digital open source textbooks for high school math and science classes and make them available for free at public schools across California.

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At least two U.S. schools, one in California and another in Minnesota, have already introduced iPads for students to replace textbooks in the classroom.

The belief is that the iPad offers features that will enhance the curriculum such as photos, access to newspapers and other resource material that a traditional textbook does not have.

American educators say the iPad is expected to save schools precious dollars because electronic textbooks cost only one-third as much as the printed version.

The iPads are also considerably lighter than the heavy textbooks many students carry around in their backpacks.

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