06.05.2013 - Education Sector

How to write a stereotype-free textbook

© UNESCO/Katty Anis

Inclusive textbooks and learning materials can open students’ minds to other cultures and help teachers cultivate the values and skills for learning to live together.

“A good textbook must engage students and relate to their reality,” declares Jean Bernard of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. A producer of learning materials and advisor on textbook quality, Bernard believes that all textbooks and learning materials should reflect the principles of education for citizenship and peace  

“Textbooks and other pedagogical materials do not simply organize and pass on knowledge, but mirror the values of their particular society,” says Sylvie Cromer, sociologist at Lille University2 and researcher at the Institut national d’études Démographiques. 

The medium and the message

Ever since 1946, UNESCO and its partners have led textbook reviews in order to remove negative stereotypes and encourage a culture of peace. The recommendations of the German-Polish Textbook Commission, established in 1972 with UNESCO support, have been widely used around the world. UNESCO has also coordinated comparative research on textbooks in the context of the Euro-Arab dialogue.

Drafting or revising history, geography and civics textbooks in particular can require great cultural sensitivity, especially in post-conflict settings. “By taking into account the viewpoint of populations who have been dominated, or that of minorities, textbooks can help develop critical thinking and cultivate peace”, explains Cromer.

The revision process is not limited to textbooks alone.  “In considering the usefulness of all learning media – from textbooks to Twitter – as catalysts for creating sustainable peace and building competencies for global citizenship, it is important to take into account both the medium and message”, remarks Bernard.

A new toolkit 

UNESCO has designed a new toolkit for writing stereotype-free textbooks. Financed by Saudi Arabia, the toolkit is designed to help remove cultural, religious and gender-biased stereotypes from curricula and learning materials. To test the tool before its publication in September 2013, UNESCO is organizing a workshop in Rabat (Morocco) from 6-9 May 2013 for authors, publishers, curriculum developers and experts in textbook development from 15 countries to work with the toolkit designers and test for usability and relevance. The feedback will be used to improve all aspects of the toolkit.

“The UNESCO-Saudi project is ground-breaking because it pulls together the best of UNESCO's recent work on textbooks and learning resources in the form of a toolkit for virtually everyone involved in the cycle of textbook development, distribution and use,” say Bernard. “It adjusts the notion of what a textbook is and how it is used in line with the realities of the information age without neglecting the principles of tolerance, mutual respect, equality and peace building based on six decades of textbook research and revision carried out by UNESCO and its partners”.  

“The idea is to give publishers, ministries, pedagogical institutions and teachers - in fact the whole editorial chain of command - a methodical approach to ensure that publications avoid stereotypes and prejudices,” says Cromer. 

The UNESCO-Saudi Arabia project is framed by the agreement between UNESCO and Saudi Arabia to support the Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Programme for a Culture of Peace and Dialogue.




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