With advances in digital technology helping to make education more accessible, paper is starting to appear outmoded and obsolete, ready to follow the slate chalkboard of bygone eras in the classroom.

When it comes to learning and retention, however, is digital better than paper? Or is there even any difference?

A recent article by Steve Drummond, Senior Education Editor for NPR News, attempted to answer these fundamental questions. And he’s not alone – several studies throughout the past decade have sought to answer the same questions.

Their findings? While many still say it’s too early to tell, recent studies do suggest that there are some areas needing to be addressed before we go paperless.

For instance, research by the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) suggests that excessive screen time can negatively affect attention and cognitive development, and cause language delays in young children. While e-books have been shown to offer benefits to children’s reading engagement, the sound effects and animation can interfere with story comprehension and event sequencing. When you add the costs going digital imposes, moving towards a paperless education can be viewed as a bit unrealistic at present, especially in developing economies.

To better understand the debate of digital over paper, we need to review why education bodies and government departments are seemingly pushing the education landscape to be more digital.

Over the past fifteen years, we have seen countries all over the world undertake curriculum and education reforms. Reforms intended to prepare their young people with the skills and knowledge needed to support the future economy and enable their citizens to compete in a global job market.

Take, for example, the National Curriculum Statement introduced by South Africa in 2007, designed to ‘take account of the knowledge and skills required to participate in a globalising century world’.

Or that of Hong Kong, which aims to ‘help students to achieve the aims of whole-person development and enable them to develop the life-long learning capabilities that are needed in our ever-changing society’.

There is widespread recognition that education systems have failed to keep pace with rapid technological advances and the socio-economic effects those have imposed on industry and commerce. By embedding digital technologies and practise into the curriculum, alongside other reforms, educational bodies and government departments hope to meet the future needs of the workforce.

In the meantime, there is still a place for paper, and it’s unlikely digital will 100 percent replace all other media in the near future. However, it is important that we recognise, given the fourth industrial revolution, that students around the world will need to be equipped with highly technical skills that surely must be taught and assessed in a way that reflects this.

Download this whitepaper to explore how curricula, assessment and qualifications worldwide are being reviewed and adapted to reflect the skills needed for the 21st century workforce.