Will Education be the Next Big Market for Electronic Displays?

By Sri Peruvemba
Published 09/19/2018
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For many of us, going to school meant filling backpacks and school lockers with big piles of books and binders overflowing with notebooks. Even today, most schools rely on traditional textbooks that are frequently outdated by the time they’re researched, written, printed and circulated. Budget-strained schools are faced with buying expensive, updated books every few years. Besides offering limited, often obsolete information, books usually only capture the thoughts of a single author. While this is not a big issue for subjects like Math or Chemistry, it is a significant problem when the topic is business or technology. Fortunately, help is at hand.

Satisfying the Need for Diverse Up-to-Date Content

The move is on to finally give students access to current, diverse content via text, video, and audio. Educators worldwide and those in developing countries are eager for their students to access the vast library systems of the first world, to the classroom content at MIT or Oxford, to the news about NASA’s latest discoveries from the previous week. It’s no wonder classroom learning is undergoing a complete transformation, spearheaded by a growing demand for electronic reading devices in schools. Devices like eSchoolbooks help teachers impart knowledge to students. With eSchoolbooks, all information is synchronized. Students can write on their screens and respond to a teacher or another student’s ideas in real time. They can also go online to watch the most current videos or news on virtually any topic suggested by their teacher, using eSchoolbook devices.

China’s Huge Display Market

With its 200+ million students, China is taking the lead in digital learning. Tablets in the form of eSchoolbooks are already in use here. Although currently limited, more than 100 companies are developing products that embrace this new vehicle for learning. The push toward eSchoolbooks is driven by several factors, not the least of which is the growing environmental concern over the nine million trees that are cut each year in China, for paper textbooks. Understandably, China is the single biggest eSchoolbook market in the world – and it’s a market that has government support. They have the will, the resources and the ability to make dramatic changes that can lead the world in education.

India Ramping Up

India isn’t far behind China in its eagerness to embrace digital-based education. India’s digital learning market was estimated at $2 billion USD in 2016. Three factors fuel this technology-based transformation. The first is robust demand, generated by over two million schools, 35,000 colleges, and 40 million seats in vocational training centers; the need for smart classrooms has never been greater. Schools in tier two and tier three cities are increasingly adopting the latest classroom technologies. There’s also heavy policy support, with the Indian government planning to liberalize the setup of digital classrooms through various government initiatives. The goal here is to grow the digital education market. And finally, there’s the impetus of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). From 2000 to 2016, more than $1.3 billion USD FDI has been pumped into India’s education sector, with most investment focusing on digital and tech-related initiatives.

The US Has Enormous Potential

While the US market for eSchoolbooks in education shows a vast untapped potential, adoption depends on local authorities making deals with commercial eSchoolbook suppliers. A $64.5M deal between New York City schools included content for one million devices. While this underscores the potential of the total US market, it also reveals the fragmented nature of a market driven by local and state initiatives.

A recent Zion Market Research report notes that video-based content in the U.S. education industry is estimated to account for the highest CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 5.1% from 2018 to 2026. Video-based content will be increasingly adopted as it facilitates faster thinking, improves problem-solving skills, and reduces training cost and time. The enhanced features in interactive displays led to their major adoption in the U.S. education market. Video-based content will be in high demand, with this segment registering the highest growth rate. Technology-enabled education also dovetails nicely with a generation of tech-savvy school children raised on video games and mobile computing.

Educators Ted Hasselbring and Candyce Williams Glaser note that computer technology has enhanced the development of sophisticated devices acting as an equalizer by freeing many students from their disabilities––everything from speech and hearing impairments to blindness and severe physical disabilities. See “Use of Computer Technology To Help Students with Special Needs.”

Helping Underserved Children Worldwide

Digital technology has the potential to dramatically expand access to education to the underserved children worldwide. Half of the world’s 50 million refugees are under the age of 18 and are displaced from their homes for an average of 17 years with little or no access to education. Here the issue is not just non-availability of educational materials but there aren’t enough teachers let alone qualified educators in remote parts of the world. Shortage of teachers in remote towns is not just a third world issue, many parts of Europe and North America also lack qualified teachers. Imagine kids in remote parts of the world being able to access content from the very best educators in the world, via video clips, via animation and audio.

In India, for example, with its rapidly expanding youth (28 million added annually), more than half of its population is under 25. The nation struggles to educate these children, especially when 65 percent live in rural areas. The problem is compounded by a dearth of teachers, teacher absenteeism, and poor teacher quality. Digital aids have recently entered the picture to confront the challenges plaguing the education system. Digital India initiatives like eBasta make digital education via tablets and computers accessible to students in rural areas. Digital learning can help develop critical thinking skills and make students comfortable with technology. (See the full article: “5 problems with teachers in rural areas which are blocking India’s educational growth.”)

Two Colorado schools are bridging the technological divide between urban and rural classrooms. The STEM School Highlands Ranch use video and teleconferencing to reach across about 100 miles of prairie to the 100-student Arickaree School District. This use of “synchronous online education” gives smaller rural schools access to the most recent technology. To communicate with the STEM SCHOOL, a state-of-the-art video conferencing camera was installed in the Arickaree School, which rests on Colorado’s high prairie east of Denver. High-tech, remote learning lets one teacher reach students in different classrooms in virtually every part of the state. Synchronous online learning lets teachers anywhere connect with students everywhere. (See the full article: “Could technology help solve Colorado’s rural teacher shortage problem?”)

China’s rural poor face similar challenges with fewer teachers willing to take jobs in remote and impoverished areas. As many as 60 million “left-behind” children are either poorly educated or insufficiently educated at home. In the past, these rural students used textbooks that had not been updated for a decade and their teachers were past retirement age. Today many rural students attend virtual classes, classes that develop their online research skills teach them how to create slides and videos. (See the full article: “Could online classrooms be the answer to teacher shortage in rural Colorado?”)

Addressing the Challenges of Emissive Displays

Medical professionals have long expressed concern over young children using emissive displays, which may harm their eyesight. But several device manufacturers now offer blue light filters for these displays. In Canada, some insurers even offer free prescription glasses that filter blue light. To further assuage concerns over blue light, there’s Reflective ePaper for eSchoolbooks. It beats out LCD and OLED displays in power consumption and outdoor readability. Newer ePaper technology adds video and color, which are ideal for eSchoolbook applications.

In addition, eWriting surfaces continued to evolve, with new products like reMarkable’s Paper Tablet, which offers lag-free reading, writing and sketching experience using an ePaper display unencumbered by an OS or apps.

The Rise in Myopia: Is Excessive Reading to Blame?

The world has been gripped by an unprecedented rise in myopia (short-sightedness). It’s estimated that up to 90% of Chinese teenagers and young adults are impaired. Myopia now affects around half of the young adults in the United States and Europe — double the prevalence of half a century ago. Some estimate that one-third of the world’s population — 2.5 billion people — could be affected by myopia by the end of this decade.

Some blame the rise of myopia on more people using emissive display screens on mobile phones, laptops, and monitors. The close proximity at which we use these screens strains the eye. But there may be another explanation. After studying more than 4,000 children at Sydney primary and secondary schools for three years, researchers found that children who spent less time outside were at greater risk of developing myopia. What seemed to matter most was the eye’s exposure to bright light. So how does bright light prevent myopia? The leading hypothesis is that light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter, in turn, blocks the elongation of the eye during development. Retinal dopamine normally ramps up during the day, telling the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, leading to consequences for eye growth. (See Myopia Boom)

Clearly, digital technology is transforming education as much as Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press did nearly 600 years ago. The need for eye-safe digital displays both inside and outside the classroom has never been greater. Perhaps most importantly, digital displays place vast silos of current information in the palms of those who need it most—our children. Without education, the poor might be getting poorer and the gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen until there is an unfortunate ‘reset’, when we might see unpleasant history repeating itself.

Editor’s Note: Sri Peruvemba is a Board Member and Chair of Marketing of The Society for Information Display (SID), the only professional organization focused on the display industry. In fact, by exclusively focusing on the advancement of electronic display technology, SID provides a unique platform for industry collaboration, communication, and training in all related technologies while showcasing the industry’s best new products. Display Week 2019 will be held May 12-16, 2019, in San Jose, CA. For more information, visit www.displayweek.org.