Textbooks must pave the way to sustainable development

published 16 December 2016 updated 3 January 2017

A new policy paper calls on governments to urgently revise the content of their textbooks in line with the core values of the new UN Sustainable Development Agenda.

It is imperative that governments urgently reassess secondary school textbooks to ensure that they reflect core values for sustainable development, including human rights, gender equality, environmental concern, global citizenship and peace and conflict resolution.

The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report has made this call in its latest policy paper, which shows that secondary school textbooks from the 1950s until 2011 missed or misrepresented key priorities now shown as crucial to achieve sustainable development.

Shaping minds

“Textbooks convey the core values and priorities of each society and are used extensively in classrooms around the world to shape what students learn,” said Aaron Benavot, Director of UNESCO’s GEM Report. “Our new analysis shows the extent to which most former students now in their 20s were taught from textbooks that had little if anything to say about the core values of sustainable development."

This is particularly pertinent given that textbooks are only revised every five to 10 years. "Few instruments shape children’s and young people’s minds more powerfully than the teaching and learning materials used in schools," states the report.

Textbooks trusted

It also highlights the importance of textbooks in the passing on, not only of knowledge, but also of social values and political identities, and an understanding of history and the world. The paper also highlights that teachers and students trust textbooks as authoritative and objective sources of information, assuming that they are accurate, balanced and based on the latest scientific findings and pedagogical practice.

Support offered

The report also examines whether – and where - the values that will help to make the Sustainable Development Goals a successful global enterprise are built into national guidelines and used in textbooks. The GEM will offer governments support to review this content, through workshops for textbook writers and illustrators.