In a forum on 29 January, Richard Gordon said that if elected as presidenthe will provide a Kindle (an eReader distributed by Amazon) to every public school student in the Philippines. At first glance, this seems like grandstanding on his part – after all, his chances of becoming president are not very high – but on second thought, it seems like a good idea. After all, what is to prevent a future president from implementing good ideas coming from Gordon, or any other presidential candidate.
A Kindle for every public school student. In the Philippines, there are 21 million public school students. If a Kindle is given to them all at once, this would cost (at US$100/unit wholesale) $2.1 billion, or about PhP 84 billion. Compared to the budget for education of PhP 167.9 billion, this seems like a big amount. However, since it takes time to put the program together, and since we aren’t sure whether we would trust Grade 1 pupils with the device, let us say that the program initially distributes Kindle to first year high school students, which would number about 1.5 million. If this is so, the cost will be about PhP 6 billion, which is reasonably within the education budget. Later, the program could be widened in steps until it reaches Grade 4.
The program should be put together after extensive negotiations with Amazon and perhaps other suppliers of eReaders. Not only should we get a good wholesale price (Gordon’s estimate was $100/unit), but more importantly, we need to also arrange that Philippine-based publishers get a big share of the download-price (the price for downloading the e-Books, which should be only 10% to 20% of the price of the printed book). Since practically all elementary and high school books are published in the Philippines, the shift to e-Books should not be a great loss to them.
Then, the Kindle program should aim at all students, eventually. This means that university students, and students in private schools should also benefit from the program. I propose that the government offer this to them at the wholesale price, also in a phased program. With the university students, this would mean that the books which are published abroad will have to be obtained from Amazon itself, with the provision that the overall cost should not exceed 20% of the print book cost.
Wide use of the Kindle will enable students to download more than just their textbooks – reference books, and even leisure books would then be available, and many people will download these. Even newspapers will come out in Kindle format.
The Kindle program will have various positive effects. First of this will be the cost savings from not having to print (and pay for) so many books. If they are distributed to first year high school students, they will use it for four years; and save a lot on the cost of the books.
Then, there will be the environmental effects of not having to print so many books. This may take time to measure, but eventually, with so many books not being printed, it will count.