By Serene Luo
EXCURSIONS to the zoo or bird park will soon become a few notches cooler.
Pupils from some primary schools on learning trips will be handed rented Apple iPhones, with which they will shoot photographs or videos of, say, the animals in their habitats.
They will also complete digital 'worksheets' by typing in the answers on the touchscreen smartphone, and even use the device's in-built digital compass to go on mini treasure hunts.
Scribbling on bits of paper while on the trail may well be history.
Three primary schools - East Spring, West View and Radin Mas - and Queensway Secondary School will try this out next month.
If the phone-rental service works well, the group called Learning EDvantage - or Lead, for short - will introduce it to about 130 other schools next year, reaching 220,000 students and teachers.
Lead is a subsidiary of Marshall Cavendish, one the biggest publishers here.
It introduced the service on the sidelines of a National Day observance ceremony yesterday.
Education Minister Ng Eng Hen, the guest-of-honour at the event, noted in his speech that today's students were tech-savvy 'Net natives'.
'Students today are able to multitask on the computer and adapt to new programs and gadgets with minimal effort,' he said.
'We have exploited such IT innovations to help our schools teach better.'
Lead's iPhone learning trail service will be available to schools which subscribe to its education portal, the mainstay of its business.
The 135 primary and secondary schools now subscribing to the portal make up about a third of the schools here.
The portal is where teachers can design tests or build lesson plans; students use it to sit in on animated tutorials.
Lead's general manager Chng Eng Leok said it will cost the schools less than $5 a pupil to 'rent' the system and the phones for each class outing.
This includes the cost of training the teachers to lead such classes ahead of the excursion.
East Spring Primary's head of department for information technology, Madam Siti Salamah Dawood, noted that pupils on class trips usually struggle with stacks of worksheets, pencil cases, cameras, bags, water bottles and clipboards.
'It's hard to write when you're outdoors. When we return to the classroom, the worksheets are usually in a very bad, crumpled state,' she said.
The iPhone, on the other hand, is a lot smaller, more portable and also more user friendly than the personal digital assistants or ultra-portable laptop computers the pupils have tried out.
Mr Chng has one concern: that the youngsters will drop the iPhone.
'I'm looking for the thickest casing I can find,' he quipped.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.