by Hong Minh
Many parents are fiercely opposed to a proposal by HCM City's Department of Education and Training for primary students to use expensive electronic tablets for study.
Most doubt the effectiveness of the idea and the health and security problems that could be involved.
The plan, presented last week, is part of the department's VND4 trillion (US$190 million) master plan to modernise teaching and study methods.
If accepted, it would mean more than 327,000 students from grades 1, 2 and 3 using tablets integrated with e-textbooks.
Traditional printed books would no longer be used. The plan is expected to be launched at more than 450 schools in the 2014-15 academic year, which officially starts next week.
It is ostensibly aimed at saving children from having to carry heavy school bags full of books and notebooks.
Do Binh Minh, a mother of a first grader at HCM City's Cao Ba Quat Primary School, objects because she feels the tablets could affect her son's health and intelligence.
She believes his eyesight and spine could be affected by long use of the gadgets.
"Even at home, my son is not freely allowed to use family's Ipad," she said.
Minh said that when her son started to learn, she used an Ipad to teach him some teaching applications.
"Then I saw he became addicted to the device, particularly with all their interesting applications and games, so I placed restrictions on him," she said.
Under the city's plan, more than 5,300 underprivileged students in the city will be provided the tablets paid from the city's budget.
The remainder would have to buy their own devices at an estimated cost of VND3-5 million each (US$140-240).
Minh Quy, a mother of a first grader in the city's Tran Quang Khai Primary School, said that leaving young children in charge of a valuable tablet exposed them to theft and danger.
"If thieves know the devices are inside the children's schoolbags, they will follow them from school and watch for a chance to snatch them," she said.
Hoang Chi Tuyen, a retired teacher and grandfather of four studying at primary schools, worries that the use of tablets, though convenient, would prevent students from developing such skills as writing, doing maths or even the preparing and managing their school studies.
"In first, second and third grades, children need such skills. Tablets are of no use for developing these vital foundations," Tuyen said.
"It's definitely not a good move. Children using the tablets will rely on them too much and ignore the real happenings in daily life," he said.
He said he preferred his grandchildren to learn mainly from traditional textbooks with some time devoted to electronic devices.
"I love to see them light up as they are given knowledge rather than sitting silently and being taught electronically," he said.
Pham Duc Chuan from the Ha Noi-based Centre for Child Psychology Research N-T said that children should learn more from real life.
He condemned the argument that the tablets would save children from having to carry heavy loads, saying that it was only replacing one problem with something worse.
"Instead of using that device, educators should think of reducing the load of books," Chuan said.
"Right now, many families are struggling to find ways to rehabilitate their children from using tablets or smart phones at home," he said.
"If the tablets are used at school, it will make things more difficult for parents as children at these ages normally lack self-awareness. They just want to do what they want."
As the mother of a primary school first grader, this writer worries about her daughter's eyesight if she watches TV, or uses tablets, smart phones and other similar electronic devices. I have to stop her from using tablets even as she is watching an English lesson on TV.
I think the educators in HCM City should invest the planned VND4 trillion ($190 million) in other projects, such as constructing more schools and building more learn-and-play grounds so that they can develop mentally and physically. — VNS