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The findings > Thematic Studies> Textbooks and Learning Materials > Part 1
  Country EFA reports
  Regional Frameworks for Action
I. Introduction
The importance of books

The Jomtien Declaration on Education for All does not contain the words "textbook" or "learning materials" and there is only passing reference to such materials in the guidelines for implementation that accompanied that declaration. Much more attention is given to the potential of technologies newer than print - television, radio, and computers. This is not surprising, any more than that a policy declaration on transportation might omit reference to oil or one on television might omit reference to electricity. Schoolbooks have long been considered an essential educational commodity but one that can be turned on or off in its supply, much like chalk or desks. It is only in the past decade that the complexities of developing the sustainable provision of books and other learning materials have come to be recognized by funding agencies and, to a lesser extent, by governments. It is only in the 1990s, too, that the importance of all links in the book chain to the sustainable provision of learning materials has come to be appreciated .

The value of books, on the other hand, has long been recognized. As early as 1978 Heyneman et al. (cited in Searle 1985, 1) reported that: From the evidence we have so far, the availability of books appears to be the single most consistently positive school factor in predicting academic achievement. In fifteen of the eighteen statistics, it is positive; this is, for example, more favorable than the thirteen out of twenty-four recently reported for teacher training.

In both Nicaragua and the Philippines, for example, testing in the early 1980s found that students with textbooks scored significantly higher, by about one-third of a standard deviation, than students without those resources (Lockheed 1993, 22; Psacharopoulos and Woodhall, 223).

In many countries of the developing world, the textbook is the major, if not the only, medium of instruction. It is the main resource for teachers, setting out the general guidelines of the syllabus in concrete form, providing a guide and foundation to the content, order, and pacing of instruction, supplying exercises and assignments for students to practise what they have learned. It is both a source of essential information and the basis for examination and appraisal.

The textbook retains its primacy because, in comparison to other educational technologies, books are cheap, easy to use, easily portable, and familiar. They can be used in districts where there is no reliable supply of electricity or communication. They can be of particular assistance to the tens of thousands of underqualified and undertrained teachers who have been pressed into service to meet the demands of increasing enrolments throughout the global South.

Textbooks, moreover, may be the only introduction to reading for students who come from homes without books. They may be a young person's only exposure to reading in villages so remote that there are no newspapers, magazines, or even shop signs. They are essential to teaching literacy in the many parts of the world where book hunger, and even book famine, is endemic, where teaching is by rote and memorization of information, not always accurate and seldom up to date. As one expert has remarked, "on the verge of the second millennium, education transmitted through oracy rather than literacy is inadequate in educating the labour force of a country [Ethiopia] with sixty million people" (Ambatchew 1999)

Books are, in short, essential to achieving the goal of Education for All. In large numbers of the world's primary and secondary schools, however, students have only limited access to them, despite millions of dollars that have been spent on programs of book provision.

Other learning materials

Textbooks cannot stand alone. To be effective, they must be supported by a variety of other educational materials. Each textbook should ideally be accompanied by a teacher's guide to using it. Such guides may outline innovative ways of teaching a particular lesson, suggest class activities to reinforce the content, provide examples of exercises and assignments. They are particularly important when a new curriculum or new teaching strategies are being introduced, and at all times for inadequately trained teachers.

Supplementary materials expand upon the information in the textbook. They may range from chalk and blackboards to educational television and interactive computerized lessons. Those that are printed reinforce the lessons of literacy taught in the classroom, develop children's ability to read, expand their vocabulary, train them in retrieving and using information, encourage independent reading, and may instil a life-long love of reading and learning.

This survey defines supplementary materials as including work books, reading programs or schemes, children's fiction (easy readers, stories, plays, anthologies), children's non-fiction, audio tapes, video tapes, multimedia learning packages, science kits, reference books such as dictionaries and atlases, magazines, comics, posters, wall charts, and maps. Most attention will be paid to the supplementary reading materials that may be located in school libraries. When printed supplementary materials are in short supply, as is often the case, it may be assumed that access to electronic materials is even scarcer.

Author's note

The conditions under which textbooks are produced, and under which they are used in the school, vary from country to country, making generalizations difficult, if not sometimes dangerous. Political, fiscal, economic, industrial, and cultural policies affect the availability of textbooks and other learning materials, as do geography, climate, and infrastructure.

Information about the availability of schoolbooks is scarce and often unreliable. This survey depends on books, published and unpublished reports from various sources, regional reports and classroom studies prepared by commissioned correspondents, personal observation and communications, and confidential responses to a questionnaire about books and learning materials that was distributed globally, but principally in Africa. Wherever practicable, sources are identified.

The classroom studies were commissioned by the UNESCO/Danida Basic Learning Materials Initiative. Ten studies were made in eight countries (Egypt, Guinea, India, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Samoa, Sénégal, and Tanzania). In each country nine publicly funded schools from rural and urban areas were selected - three of the best, three average, and three weak. Researchers were asked to identify the educational materials in the classrooms, including non-book materials, their use, the extent to which teachers were trained in the use of materials, the involvement of pupils in preparing teaching and learning aids, and any significant experience or innovation encountered. These studies are identified in the text as "UNESCO/Danida case studies".

The questionnaire was prepared by the Working Group on Books and Learning Materials of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the UNESCO/Danida Basic Learning Materials Initiative. Specific information drawn from the responses is identified in the text by "ADEA/UNESCO survey 1999".

Because of constraints of time, some regions are underrepresented. Special attention is paid to Africa, where the book shortage has attracted more external support and generated more documentation over the past decade than any other region.

In the preparation of the work, Winsome Gordon, Diana Newton, Carol Priestley, Diana Rosenberg, Carew Treffgarne, and Elizabeth Wilson were supportive and helpful. Errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.

This survey is one of a series being prepared for the EFA 2000 Assessment, under the auspices of UNESCO Basic Education Section and the United Kingdom Department for International Development, for the International Consultative Forum on Education for All. It was commissioned for them by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publication.

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