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In the first Terminator movie he tried to extinguish all human life. Now, as governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to make textbooks history in favour of digital formats.

Schwarzenegger, trying to plug a budget hole of $24.3bn (£15bn), thinks he can make savings by getting rid of what he decries as expensive textbooks. The governor is serious about an idea that might make Gutenberg turn in his grave. He appeared in class yesterday to push an idea he set out in the San Jose Mercury News newspaper.

"It's nonsensical and expensive to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators' hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources."

Schwarzenegger points out that California last year set aside $350m for school books and argues that even if teachers have to print out some of the material, it will be far cheaper than regularly buying updated textbooks.

Schwarzenegger plans to launch the scheme in August next year when California's high-school pupils will have access to online maths and science texts. They would also use a digital textbook such as Sony reader, which can hold the same information as up to 160 books.

Ebook readers are gaining in popularity. Yesterday, Apple presented an upcoming application for its iPhone, that allows users to buy books, including textbooks, on their phones and also copy and email large chunks.

"Basically kids are feeling as comfortable with their electronic devices as I was with my pencils and crayons. Textbooks are outdated, in my opinion," Schwarzenegger told pupils."For so many years, we've been trying to teach the kids exactly the same way."

Holding up four large books he joked: "I can use these for the curls," in a nod to his bodybuilding days before he became one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

But some teachers wonder whether Schwarzenegger's idea of getting rid of textbooks might end up costing more not less, with digital textbooks going for $300.

Kristina Fierro, a high school teacher in Bakersfield, said it would be expensive to get the materials, train the teachers and train the students to use the materials properly. She was also worried about the students once they are out of the classroom.

"I would say out of a class of 30, maybe 10 or less ... have a computer at home. The governor hasn't given many details about the programme, but so far the digital addition isn't looking like a subtraction for California's budget," she told KGET, a local TV station.

In an effort to cut the state budget deficit, Schwarzenegger has signed an executive order to scrap funding on contracts from 1 March, and bar state agencies from entering into new ones. Between 2005 and 2008, the state of California signed an average of 65,000 contracts a year, which ranged from peanut butter for prison inmates to consultants for computer system upgrades. This year the number stands at about 36,000.

Schwarzenegger said: "Every state agency and department will scrutinise how every penny is spent on contracts to make sure the state is getting the best deal for every taxpayer dollar."


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