Grading The World's Textbooks: Making Progress But Needs Improvement

Posted by Laura Dimock on

By Diane Cole
A lesson in leadership illustrated by images of men only. A fill-in-the-blanks test whose "correct" answer is a stereotype: "I am a Filipino. I am a domestic helper in Hong Kong." A discussion of global warming that highlights potential "positive effects" of climate change, such as "Places that are too cold for farming today could become farmland."

These are some examples from textbooks around the world included in a newly released study about the role of textbooks by the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report.

The report reviewed secondary school history, civics, social studies, and geography textbooks from the 1950s until 2011 to see how they handled issues such as peace and nonviolence, gender equality, human rights, environmental protection and cultural diversity. The information was culled from three large databases that each drew on several hundred textbooks in a variety of categories, encompassing close to 100 countries. The conclusion: Despite some progress, textbooks often continue to minimize, brush aside or misrepresent these topics.

That's troubling, says, Nihan Koseleci, researcher and author of the GEM Report. "A textbook might be the only book that someone has," she says, and the views and attitudes it instills can carry forward into the future. For instance, when textbooks continue to repeat "the same stories of violence, then you will never have peaceful and co-existing societies."

 

We asked Koseleci to guide us through the report and a sampling of textbook images that demonstrate where progress has been made — and where it's needed.

Gender Equality

Example #1: All the government leaders are men in this illustration from a 2006 Democratic Republic of the Congo textbook.

Courtesy of Global Education Monitoring Report

This illustration (example #1) from a 2006 Democratic Republic of the Congo textbook depicts only men in important government positions. "When women are depicted in civics textbooks they will be seen voting, for instance, but not as leaders or officials," says Koseleci.

As in this example, women tend to be invisible in textbooks, says Koseleci. And when they are presented, they are mostly in the domestic sphere. "Even in a math textbook, from Turkey, you have a mother and daughter counting eggs while they're cooking," she says. Similarly, an illustration from a 2011 textbook in Kenya shows women working in traditional service and teaching roles; by contrast, other professionals and workers — including doctor, carpenter, policeman and fisherman — are all male.

Bottom line: Overall, the report found that discussion of women's rights increased by 37 percent in the years 2000-2011. Nonetheless, only a sixth of textbooks in Northern Africa and Western Asia mention women's rights at all.

Peace and non-violence

Example #2: A Cyprus text depicts a friendly meal with citizens from what had until recently been opposing Greek and Turkish sides.

Courtesy of Global Education Monitoring Report

"Education can prevent conflict by encouraging tolerance and nonviolence, or it can exacerbate conflict by emphasizing tensions and making disparaging comments about other groups," Koseleci says. For instance, some textbooks in Pakistan and in India reiterate historic grievances between Muslims and Hindus as opposed to raising the possibilities for reconciliation

A positive example is this 2004 illustration from Cyprus (example #2) that promotes peace by showing citizens from what had until recently been opposing Greek and Turkish sides eating together — rather than fighting. "This is a step forward," Koseleci says.

Environmental concerns

Enlarge this image

Example #3: This book, from Jamaica, looks at the science of climate change.

Courtesy of Global Education Monitoring Report

"There has been a tremendous increase in textbooks talking about environmental protection and damage," says Koseleci. For instance, in Latin America and the Caribbean, about 80 percent of textbooks now do, compared to 10 percent in 1980.

Here are two different approaches to the subject, both positive:

A textbook from Jamaica (example #3) presents the science of environmental change.

Example #4: A South African textbook depicts environmental activism.

Courtesy of Global Education Monitoring Report

One from South Africa (example #4) shows ways to protect and advocate for the environment.

But between 2000 and 2011, only 30 percent of textbooks discussed environmental issues as a global problem, and some countries continue to glide over, misrepresent or cast doubt on environmental issues. For example, the report found that in Germany, while 73 percent of 49 civics and geography textbooks do discuss environmental concerns, according to the report "people in developing countries are portrayed as responsible for the environmental stress they face and unable to solve their environmental or conflict-related problems, and "issues such as interventions by multinationals or consumption patterns in richer countries are not discussed." They also, according to the report, tend to portray people in developing countries "as responsible for the environmental stress they face and unable to solve their environmental or conflict-related problems."

The report also cites American textbooks that cast doubt on the causes of climate change and omit the fact that climate change is already under way.

Example #5: A Mexican textbook shows boys (including one in a wheelchair) and girls playing basketball.

Courtesy of Global Education Monitoring Report

Diversity/human rights

This diverse group of basketball players, depicted in a textbook from Mexico (example #5), includes a boy in a wheelchair — and an equal number of boys and girls, too.

The percentage of textbooks mentioning human rights increased from 28 percent in 1970-1979 to 50 percent between 2000-2011. At the same time, though, only 9 percent of textbooks discussed rights of people with disabilities and just 3 percent covered the rights of LGBTI people.

Global Citizenship

Example #6: Textbooks still engage in stereotyping, as in this 2015 book from Hong Kong.

Courtesy of Global Education Monitoring Report
subscribe to education email updates food blog link image learning blog link living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

Fun activities and projects for kids, educational resources for parents and teachers, and links to SDPB and PBS learning media!

Visit SDPB's Education Site!

Related content from SDPB Radio

Brett Bradfield On Thomas Kilian Academic Success Center

In The Moment ... November 20, 2017 Show 224 Hour 1 One year after an agreement between Kilian Community College and...

Education, Outreach, And Oklahoma! News From The Black Hills Playhouse

In The Moment ... November 15, 2017 Show 221 Hour 2 The Black Hills Playhouse's Dakota Players have toured South...

Looking For A Mind At Work

In The Moment ... November 9, 2017 Show 217 Hour 1 Stephen Jackson, Assistant Professor of History at the University...

In The Moment ... Jill Watson On Guiding Students With Limited Or Interrupted Education

In The Moment ... October 16, 2017 Show 199 Hour 2 Jill Watson is Professor of English as an additional language and...

In The Moment ... Law School Compromise

In The Moment ... October 10,2017 Show 195 Hour 1 How should the University of South Dakota Law School address...