December 2017        

Plagiarism in the schools—but it’s not the pupils!

Johnny Gaffney

The Department of Education and the media have for years hyped up the idea of schools “ditching the textbooks and going digital.” In particular, Microsoft Showcase Schools are “innovative,” where “digital books” and “tablets” replace “old-fashioned” books This apparently is the great leap forward—but is it?
     For Microsoft it will ensure a jump in profits. Families are expected to fork out €800 per child for a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet (with a very limited lifespan) and to use its One Note software. But Microsoft is not supplying the e-books; instead these schools and the Department of Education, in theory, expect the teachers to do the impossible and write their own digital books.
     Such a development would not be “ground-breaking” but a huge leap backwards. Experts, along with publishers, have spent brainpower, effort and time in devising school books that can best explain a particular subject. It is absurd to expect individual teachers in individual schools up and down the country to try to replicate this task.
     The authorities recognise this fact and simply expect their teachers to break the copyright laws by copying and pasting books into these “digital books.” Plagiarism is not “innovative”: it is illegal. And it is the teachers who will be personally liable and could face fines or even prison.
     Deputy Clare Daly submitted two Dáil questions on these serious issues, but the minster for education simply did not answer them. More questions are due to follow in relation to concerns expressed by at least one publisher over the breach by schools of the copyright laws.
     Meanwhile the congress of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland has never discussed these risks to its members.
     There is, of course, a simple solution to this situation. Microsoft should pay for all the relevant e-books. That would be a great leap forward!

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