ARAB STATES: e-Books still at an early stage

Despite rapid improvements in digital readiness in Arab states, the adoption of e-books is still at an early stage in universities.

To encourage e-book development and use in Arab universities, more attention must be given to digital infrastructure, PC and internet penetration as well as connection costs, said Tarek Saif, a researcher at Egypt's National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

The expansion of online learning could also boost the use of e-books. However, development of online education in Arab countries has been patchy so far, with some nations making good progress while others remain at the concept stage, according to Saif.

At present most homegrown e-books in the Arab world are simply digital versions of printed books, known as a 'digitised e-books'. They are the equivalent of a scanned PDF copy of the original paper-bound text and do not integrate video, audio, animation and other interactive features.

Nor are they read on special e-book readers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), or mobile phones, as genuine e-books are.

"The development of e-books in Algeria is still in an embryonic stage as in several Arab countries. But the development of e-books for use in the Arab higher education system will become more mature as time passes," said Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, a professor of mathematics at Algiers' Ecole Normale Supérieure, in Algeria.

Better production of e-books, which require specialist skills, and more library lending of e-book titles could help.

"This could be done by setting up centres associated with universities for the production of e-books, the establishment and implementation of relative technological standards, setting up rules for e-book intellectual property rights, and the expansion of the e-book service pattern of libraries at universities as well as establishing virtual universities," he said.

Libyan ICT expert Amal Rhema at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, said the adoption of e-books in Libya was also still at an early stage. However, this was beginning to change - several Libyan institutions recently introduced electronic resource repositories, e-libraries.

She said: "In the very near future e-books will rapidly be adopted because the Libyan government is working hard to modernise society, and raise awareness of ICT, e-learning and e-books." Students and academics can be encouraged to use e-books if the "price is reasonable and affordable, and its content is easy to find and use", she said.

Arab states have demonstrated the most improvement in digital readiness of any region in the world, according to the annual Global Information Technology Report produced by the World Economic Forum.

Saudi Arabia is experiencing aggressive investment in the key pillar of the knowledge-based economy, including information technology applications in higher education, which resulted in the country being ranked 38th globally. It was also 11th in terms of the number of personal computers per 100 people.

Abdulkader Alfantookh, ICT senior consultant and Deputy Minister of Higher Education for Planning and Information, said: "This high global ranking indicates the increased rate of use of new ICTs and the level of technological development taking place in Saudi Arabia, which will be reflected in future development of e-books at Saudi universities."