How can education help us rethink what we mean by prosperity?

cover-pageWe need to reconceive what it means to prosper. The current prosperity enjoyed by pockets of people across the world has had a devastating impact on our natural environment and left too many people behind. Education is often held up as the panacea for poverty, and while there is little doubt that education increases income, reduces poverty and contributes to economic growth, there is an urgent need for us to rethink how we educate ourselves in order for our economies to become more sustainable and inclusive.

Our publication, Partnering for prosperity: Education for green and inclusive growth, launched today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, describes the transformative role that education and lifelong learning can play in fostering green growth. Education can help make production and consumption sustainable, provide green skills for current and emergent industries, and orient higher education and research towards green innovation. At the same time, as the economy becomes greener, it must also become more inclusive. Prosperity must be conceived in ways that leave no one behind. Closer integration of education, economic and employment policies are essential for that change to happen. Continue reading

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We must stamp out stereotypical teaching tools

Gender bias in textbooks is one of the best camouflaged and hardest to budge rocks in the road to gender equality in education. Through stereotypical and unbalanced depictions of men and women in stories and illustrations, textbooks undermine values and attitudes conducive to gender equality and empowerment, a cornerstone in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

card-2Our latest policy paper, about which we’ve been running an extensive blog series over recent weeks, has taken a detailed look at the content of textbooks. This week we will be focusing on the way they cover gender issues and women’s rights, in order to help feed into an online WikiGender discussion with OECD and UNESCO. Partners for the discussion include UNGEI (United Nations Girls Education Initiative), FAWE (Forum for African Women Educationalists), GPE (Global Partnership for Education) and the Council of Europe. Join us online this week via the website, or tune into the Google Hangout this Friday at 3pm CET. It is lined up to be a vibrant discussion. Continue reading

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Global health funds have done a lot of good. Is there room for a “global fund” for books?

By Paul Wilson, Assistant Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University.

Books, especially textbooks, are critical to learning, as we have been reading in the latest blog series on this site, but they are in grievously short supply in many developing country classrooms. Results for Development (R4D) recently released a report, on which I advised, exploring the feasibility of a “Global Book Alliance” that would focus attention, expertise and resources on this crucial obstacle to effective education.

Much of our inspiration came from the success of global funds in health, which have transformed donor assistance in many areas. In our Report – and this blog – we carry on the questions explored in the policy paper released by the GEM Report at the start of last year: Could a new alliance do the same for books?

Health funds have raised life-saving resources

Over the last 15 or so years, a series of new international financing mechanisms have been created for health, raising substantial new resources and saving many lives. The largest and best known are the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (“the Global Fund”) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, but there are a growing number of others.

The Gavi case

Gavi was launched in 2000 to allow poor countries to afford to introduce life-saving vaccines . At its simplest, it would be a vehicle by which donors could band together to purchase these vaccines and provide them to countries. But it was also anticipated that unified (“pooled”) purchase and assured demand would attract new suppliers and drive prices down over time, perhaps eventually allowing countries to purchase these vaccines with their own resources. At the same time, Gavi would provide resources and expertise to help countries strengthen their immunization programs.

Although the decline in prices has not been as rapid as initially hoped, these objectives have been largely achieved. Most of the countries eligible for Gavi support have introduced at least two new vaccines, and Gavi estimates that these immunizations have already contributed to averting 8 million future deaths.

What were the conditions which made Gavi successful? Four stand out:

  1. There was universal consensus that the intervention —vaccines—would have a big health impact if it reached children.
  1. The cost of a commodity — vaccines —was the crucial obstacle to access to the proven intervention.
  1. The needed commodity was the same everywhere and already available in high-income countries — vaccines would save lives in Bangladesh as they had in the US and Europe. These commodities could thus be procured in bulk for all participating countries in international markets, resulting in cost savings over national or donor-specific procurement.
  1. The new global fund brought together in an alliance key international organizations involved in immunization and could therefore serve as forum for agreeing on policy and spending priorities.

The Global Fund case

The Global Fund for health met many of these conditions as well. Antiretroviral and antimalarial drugs could save lives wherever AIDS and malaria raged, but poor countries could not afford to provide them. A vast new subsidized market for these drugs—and coordinated action—might bring down prices. On the other hand, systems for delivering the needed interventions were not in place in many countries, and building these systems country by country has made the task of the Global Fund more complicated than that of Gavi. As a result, bilateral funding channels, with their more hands-on approach to building delivery systems, have continued to complement the Global Fund.

Health fund vs. book fund: similarities and differences

So, what about books? Which of the conditions that made such a strong case for Gavi are in place for a global book alliance? The R4D report confirms that books are important, and that a lack of appropriate (and effectively used) books is impeding progress in education in many countries (condition 1). However, it is less clear that the cost of books is the major impediment to their availability and use (condition 2).

Results for Development found that although there is funding shortfall for books in many countries, this is probably not the most important bottleneck in most places. Inefficiencies in procurement and elsewhere in the supply chain mean that available funds are often poorly used. Moreover, access to books is also hampered by lack of demand from parents, teachers and education policymakers; broken and corrupt distribution systems; and teaching methods that don’t make good use of books when they are available.

The R4D analysis concluded that a Global Book Alliance would have to do much more than channel funding for books and proposed; providing technical assistance should be central to its mission.

In addition, condition 3 listed above is not met because books are needed in hundreds of languages. This leaves little scope for pooled procurement, weakening the argument for a new global funding mechanism, as opposed to country-tailored assistance through traditional bilateral or multilateral channels.

The Global Book Alliance, as envisioned in the R4D report, would be a forum for reaching consensus on policy, priorities, and organizational roles (condition 4). Indeed, the success of the new entity would depend in large part on how successful it was in assuming this role.

In addition, both Gavi and the Global Fund were backed from the start by powerful voices and were thus able to attract substantial new resources. If a new book alliance is able to recruit important backers, it might be able to do something similar for books, although it would face a more challenging environment for new aid initiatives.

This comparison suggests that the case for a Global Book Alliance is not as straightforward as for some of the global health funds, especially Gavi. But there are similarities, and, as the R4D report argues, there could be important benefits from a new mechanism that advocates for schoolbooks, brings expertise and best practices together in one place, coordinates technical assistance, and links this to new funding. And if a Global Book Alliance could bring new focus to previously scattered efforts, it might inspire new funding. If it can do these things well, it could make a big difference even if the analogy with the global health funds is far from perfect.

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What American textbooks say about Vietnam, and about Americans’ attitudes toward war


This blog examines what a country’s textbooks can tell us about their attitude towards war, and in particular how coverage of the Vietnam war has changed over time in American textbooks. It is part of a series of blogs on this site published to encourage debates around a new GEM Report Policy Paper: Between the Lines, which looks at the content of textbooks and how it reflects some of the key concepts in Target 4.7 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

By Richard Lachmann, Professor of Sociology, University at Albany

Textbooks are opportunities for governments to instill patriotic values in school children. Such values are especially important if a government wants its citizens to support future wars. Governments that seek to convince their soldiers to fight, kill and die in wars need to present past wars as glorious and honorable and minimize the wartime suffering of the country’s soldiers. However, textbooks, deliberately or inadvertently, can also open space for ‘critical pedagogy’ that undercuts militarism by presenting the human costs of war for soldiers and civilians.

Textbooks are especially influential in shaping US students’ opinions on war. This is because American high school teachers, unlike their counterparts in Europe and Asia, are not trained in history, having majored in education or social science disciplines, like sociology or psychology. Thus, the decisions made by US textbook authors and publishers are decisive in determining what students learn about America’s wars.

Publishers in the US, as elsewhere, want to sell as many books as possible and therefore seek to avoid offending the often-conservative state and local school boards that select textbooks. This leads to fairly bland volumes that say little about controversial topics like the Vietnam War, or that muddle any contentious message with multiple points of view. Nevertheless, even as publishers try to evade controversy, textbook authors, as they select words and images, make editorial choices that shape how students view specific wars and influence their stance toward the military and war in general. Continue reading

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We need textbooks that are affirming of sexual diversity


This blog looks at the way that textbooks can help or hinder the tolerance of sexual diversity. It is part of a series of blogs on this site published to encourage debates around a new GEM Report Policy Paper: Between the Lines, which looks at the content of textbooks and how it reflects some of the key concepts in Target 4.7 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Textbooks are never neutral; they convey influential messages that help to shape children and young people’s ideas about what is ‘normal’ and legitimate in their society. While textbooks have increasingly called for tolerance of diversity, too often sexual diversity is excluded. The overwhelming majority of textbooks still only show heterosexual couples, relationships, and families.

figure-9-newOur new policy paper shows that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) people appear in only 3% of secondary school social studies textbooks. There has been almost no change in this number since the 1970s, though there is significant regional variation: coverage of LGBTI rights is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean (20%), whereas in sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa and Western Asia, less than 5% of textbooks acknowledge LGBTI people. Continue reading

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The Current State of Textbooks in Turkey: a denial of minorities


This blog looks at how Turkish textbooks could better incorporate the cultures, lifestyles and histories of ethnic and religious minorities. It is part of a series of blogs on this site published to encourage debates around a new GEM Report Policy Paper: Between the Lines, which looks at the content of textbooks and how it reflects some of the key concepts in Target 4.7 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

By Kenan Çayır, Director, Center for Sociology and Education Studies, Istanbul Bilgi University

Education has been centralized in Turkey since the foundation of the republic in 1923. Schools are required to follow a state-produced and unified curriculum. Textbooks strictly follow the National Curriculum drawn up by the Ministry of National Education (MoNE). The Ministry prepares textbooks for all subjects and allows the use of other textbooks submitted by private publishing houses only after they have been approved by the Board of Education. Teachers are not free to choose textbooks, but must use those distributed and approved by the State.

Textbooks in use in Turkey today took their shape and content as a result of a comprehensive curriculum reform in 2005.  This curriculum reform was part of a global trend towards more student-centered pedagogy. In the Turkish context, the MoNE rationalized the curriculum reform by emphasizing the need to align the Turkish education system to the norms of the European Union and of preparing the country for ‘the information age’. As a result, since then, new programs have been developed and new textbooks have gradually been introduced at all grade levels in compulsfigure-9ory education (4 years primary, 4 years secondary, 4 years high school years).

This reform could have been a way to use education’s potential to create a more inclusive nation in Turkey. This is an urgent need since contemporary Turkey has been characterized by increasing claims of non-Muslim and non-Turkish minorities to equal citizenship. Turkey needs to develop an inclusive notion of citizenship in the face of these changes. However, a recent study shows that despite few progressive steps, today’s Turkish textbooks – as with many textbooks worldwide –  still contain the same core problems as the ones they replaced: they deny multiculturalism. Continue reading

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The 1994 Genocide as Taught in Rwanda’s Classrooms


This blog looks at how textbook  and curricula reforms in Rwanda have worked to cover the 1994 Genocide and instill the ideals of tolerance, unity and reconciliation in students. It is part of a series of blogs on this site published to encourage debates around a new GEM Report Policy Paper: Between the Lines, which looks at the content of textbooks and how it reflects some of the key concepts in Target 4.7 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

by Jean-Damascene Gasanabo, PhD, Director-General, Research and Documentation Center on Genocide, National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), Kigali, Rwanda.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi saw the slaughter of more than one million people over the span of three months, and placed Rwanda at the forefront of the world’s political consciousness. Almost 23 years later, Rwanda has rebuilt and become a modern hub of progress and development, putting in place social, political and economic systems that are grounded in national unity and reconciliation – with education reforms playing a central role.

2 Continue reading

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