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Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, has hailed the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) electronic book (e-book) initiative, noting that it will save students significant sums in textbook costs.

Under the project, being piloted in the medical faculty, students will be able to digitally access all their texts and journals at a fraction of the cost of printed material.

Speaking at the official launch on Tuesday, February 19, at the Medical Sciences Building, Minister Thwaites said the initiative must be applauded, as it forms part of the Ministry’s thrust to use technology to improve the education system.

“We spend roughly $3 billion a year in this country purchasing school books. The state spends about a third of that and this project represents the application of technology, which will remove the burden of the heavy cost of printed material, which many of our parents can scarcely bear,” he stated.

Under the project dubbed: ‘UWI/Total Electronic Solution Tablet (TEST)’, medical students will receive a seven-inch Android 4.0 tablet or SmartTab, made by local company JLMobile, at a cost of US$200. The one time charge covers a seven-month warranty and technical support for the duration of the course.

The electronic textbooks are being provided by overseas-based company VitalSource, via its application, Bookshelf. Each student will be provided with 18 of the core medical texts needed to complete their programme at a cost of US$199.76 per year. This sum is a mere fraction of the total cost of purchasing all 18 books in hard copy, as one of the required texts cost about US$234.

Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Phillip Paulwell, who also attended the launch, congratulated those responsible for what he said was a “tremendous feat”.

“I am very pleased that finally, we’re seeing the realisation emerging that throughout Jamaica, we are going to be embracing ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) as the way to enable every single area, whether you are involved in education, social welfare, or the medical field,” he stated.

The e-book programme was implemented in a response to the increasing cost of tertiary education, primarily the cost of textbooks in the Faculty of Medical Sciences.  

Principal, UWI, Mona, Professor Gordon Shirley said the project is the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean and aims to provide students with convenient and cost-effective access to textbooks, and provide for the seamless integration of technology into the teaching and learning processes.

He said through the facility, students will be able to access books from any library at Mona and other UWI campuses.

“Over 50 per cent of the incoming class has already taken access to this (programme) and we hope, in due course, that 100 per cent of the class will take advantage of it,” he stated.

Professor Shirley said all textbooks are available on the tablets and, “because so many students have taken access to it, all faculty members have now had to take access to it.”

He said that plans are in place to expand the project across all faculties as the institution seeks to become a digital university.

He added that UWI will be partnering with representatives from Jamaica College to introduce the programme to that school, and there are plans to extend it to other secondary institutions across the island.