HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Tan May Lin

From pen to mobile devices: will there ever be a paperless school?


Disruptive and emerging technologies are changing the way we work and live today. This new wave of technologies is undoubtedly infiltrating the education sector, not only in Singapore, but all over the world. As a result, our education sector is transforming– with enhanced teaching methods, as well as new ways of learning in our increasingly digital world.

For example, in 2016, ten local primary schools successfully adopted the mobile technology initiative, where certain cohorts were encouraged to use mobile devices for subjects such as English, science and social studies. In 2018, the Education Ministry rolled out its online platform, the Student Learning Space (SLS), across all schools under MOE to provide students with the flexibility to learn at their own pace with interactive features, videos, and quizzes.

Gone are the days when we used chalk and blackboards that were invented during the 18th century. Today, digital devices, learning platforms, interactive projectors are used to tailor education to suit students’ needs, interests, and motivations.

Education institutions also encourage online classes or webinars. The trend is obvious with students carrying less textbooks, and instead having their notebooks or tablets as their go-to notetaking method of choice.

Pen and paper are still relevant
Whilst we acknowledge the evolution of technology and how it impacts the education sector, the old school way of pen and paper is still highly relevant today.

We often heard the term “Paperless Office”, which refers to an office where the use of paper is eliminated or greatly reduced, with documents stored in digital formats. It is not difficult to picture this for the education sector, given the digital trends that increasingly disrupt our daily lives.

However, a study conducted with university students across multiple countries revealed that whilst digital devices dominate the teaching and learning experience, students still find it beneficial when they read and write with paper.

The strokes of handwritten characters allows a "much more personal, more subjective” experience as compared to in coded form, such as typing on a computer. Writing also leads to greater retention of knowledge due to the physical transparency of printed form when put up against digital display that “flickers and disorders.”

The importance of print in a highly digital education industry
As the e-learning industry gains popularity and online content become more accessible to students and teachers, printed documents still play a crucial role in the education sector due to its wide applications and uses. In fact, the education market remains one of the biggest consumers of paper products worldwide.

Paper products are often used for the most important materials, such as report cards, worksheets, examinations, and registrations.

Report cards are some of the most important documents in the education sector because they keep track of students’ progress and performance, representing a formal way for teachers to communicate with parents. Examinations and tests still rely heavily on paper, where students have to darken the oval on an Optical Answer Sheet (OAS), or write essays on multiple sheets of paper.

Recently, Singapore’s Education Minister Ong Ye Kung shared that more examinations could go digital in the future as students provided positive feedback on computer-based writing examinations that were piloted.

However, he also noted that there is still a long way to go for examinations to be completely digital, as the education sector in Singapore might not be ready for it. Mr. Ong also cited that some students may not have as much exposure to computers as others, possibly leading to disadvantages for some.

The latter is a valid reason. Some countries still lack the required technological infrastructure, and they rely heavily on print documents. Epson Singapore for instance has collaborated with Singapore Management University (SMU) to help print paper materials for Our Lady of Grace, Children’s Home (OLGH) located in the county of Meru, Kenya.

Whilst Singapore has the infrastructure necessary to move into the next stage of the print evolution, it still begs the question whether our education sector will ever be ready for paperless schools.

Paper remains king
Attitudes to print are changing as we advance digitally and technologically, but paper remains very much at the centre of the education sector. In the same way streaming music has led to a vinyl revival, and e-books have encouraged more of us to buy traditional hard-copy books, digital’s ability to send information in a targeted way reminds us all of the underlying value of the paper document.

The journey to a paperless school has already begun, but it is a slow one. Rather than cutting down on print entirely and digitalising everything, we should consider the changing relationship between print volume and impact. Technologies have transformed the way we think about print’s value and role, as well as the kind of printing technology schools should invest in.

The education sector should adopt a “print what matters most” attitude instead of a “print everything” culture. Not only does this help schools use less energy, reduce waste, and become more sustainable to the environment in the long run, it prioritises the quality over the quantity of print. It is in this context that more and more organisations are choosing inkjet printing technology over laser.

As the education sector increasingly adopts new technologies that encourage interaction and collaboration between students and teachers, there is less need for mass printing. As a result, the near-paperless school will see print being increasingly used to showcase important milestones and documents, where quality matters above everything else.

Are we prepared for change?
It is promising that new technologies create new ways of learning and teaching that will result in new discoveries and ideas. However, just because a digital classroom is more widely adopted, it does not mean the use of paper in education will be obsolete. Paper have been– and likely always will be – an important component of our education sector. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Tan May Lin

Tan May Lin

Tan May Lin heads Epson Singapore and is responsible for managing its sales, marketing & customer service operations in the country. With more than 20 years of experience, twelve of which was spent in a senior management position, May Lin’s strengths lie in business development, sales, marketing and business management. 

Since joining Epson 9 years ago, May Lin has revamped the sales and marketing team and increased sales contribution from the corporate segment. In addition, May Lin hasestablished Epson from Number 3 to Number 1 in Singapore for projector market share.

Prior to this role, May Lin was part of Samsung Asia Pte Ltd where she was responsible for developing and implementing key GTM and marketing strategies to drive growth for IT business units in the Southeast Asian and Oceanic region. May Lin also previously hold the position of Senior Manager of Office Systems Solutions at Canon Singapore Pte Ltd where she headed the company’s print solutions business.

May Lin graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Master of Science (Management of Technology), Bachelor of Social Science and an Honors degree in Political Science (Bachelor of Arts), majoring in Economics and Political Science.

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