By Margaret Sinclair (Technical Adviser, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict Programme, Education Above All Foundation) and Jean Bernard (Senior Partner, Spectacle Learning Media)
Given current challenges of conflict, insecurity and environmental collapse, we must put maximum effort into Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.7: education to promote responsible and global citizenship, a culture of peace, gender equality, human rights, respect for cultural diversity and sustainable lifestyles. Achieving Target 4.7 presents challenges in every society. This blog specifically addresses the challenges in fragile and low-income countries, and the possibilities for collaborative development of effective approaches and guidance in respect of textbooks and other education materials.
The role of textbooks
A practical and relatively low-cost proposal for ensuring Target 4.7 gains traction in low-resourced classrooms is to provide thematic trainings on the key values in the Target to writers engaged in the production or revision of textbooks and other education materials for core school subjects. This training activity can be added to ongoing or planned writing projects as a means of creating immediate momentum as well as included in future budgets for longer term textbook development cycles.
We do not suggest incorporating a set of sophisticated experiential classroom activities of the type used in more affluent settings. While perhaps useful in the schools frequented by more advantaged children in the capital of almost any country, such approaches will not work in schools in most other settings. We need to work with interested countries to develop and test principles that work under wide-ranging classroom conditions and are easy for teachers to implement without extensive additional training. We suggest that these principles could be adapted from the requirement for social and emotional learning (SEL) to be ‘SAFE’: sequenced, active, focused and explicit.
Adapting SEL principles to materials for under-resourced settings
Applying the principles of being ‘sequenced’ and ‘explicit’ would imply having stand-alone sections in textbooks for social studies, languages and science on skills and values for learning to live together, and on global (including local and national) citizenship and sustainable environments. It will be important to introduce Target 4.7 concepts clearly; progressively deepening the understanding and commitment in each year of study.
‘Focused’ would imply being selective and choosing a few locally relevant themes to explore in depth rather than trying to cover all possible topics related to global citizenship and sustainable development. In our recent work with the Uganda National Curriculum Development Centre drafting pilot reading materials in support of the national ‘Conflict and Disaster Risk Management’ policy, we identified three main themes for lower and middle primary: emotional awareness, empathy and helping, and respect for diversity; adding in a five step conflict resolution model for upper primary education
‘Active’ is the trickiest principle if classrooms are overcrowded and teachers have limited preparation. A practical way to engage students ‘actively’ and personally is to use stories: true stories for textbooks, and fictional stories modelling challenges and responses in the students’ environment for early grade literacy materials, language textbooks and supplementary readers. Stories can engage our gut level emotions as well as intellect – as we all know from watching films. Neurobiologist-educator Mary Immordino-Yang has explored this through study of the physical and empathic correlates of inspirational true stories. The ‘neural coupling’ and ‘narrative transportation’ that happens when a story is being read aloud can help a teacher engage the class at an emotional level. Reading aloud, interspersed with class discussion (supported by teacher prompts), followed by individual reading of (a version of) the same story, can thus make the learning ‘active’.
Writer trainings for Target 4.7
The training for textbook writers and illustrators should be designed in light of ‘SAFE’ principles. Apart from highlighting the importance of these principles, the writers, often living in privileged urban areas, should visit and interact with under-resourced schools in different parts of the country to be more aware of real-life classroom conditions. As happened in social studies textbook revision in Nepal, writers should also interact with marginalized groups, to enable their representation in stories or factual materials, and should incorporate youth. To ensure that the new elements are taken seriously by students and teachers, they must be reflected in some form in national examination questions. This means involving specialists from the national examination board in the initial writers’ trainings.
Training might be differentiated so that all writers of education materials are oriented to the Target 4.7 values and issues, while more intensive workshops are held for those writing explicit Target 4.7 content. Clearly, we need to share experience of what actually works in difficult conditions, and to pilot the proposed trainings in current and planned materials development projects. Lessons can be learned from writers’ enhanced focus on gender in recent years: we now need to apply this approach to the whole of Target 4.7.
Hopefully, donors will soon see that the promise of SDG Goal 4, to ‘ensure inclusive quality education for all and promote lifelong learning’, cannot be achieved without the creation and distribution of a new generation of textbooks. Can we be prepare field experience, methods and guidance for incorporating Target 4.7 themes in fragile and low-resource classroom settings at the same time? Can we show evidence of successes in reaching students’ hearts and personal identity as well as their minds, even under difficult conditions? Let’s find some way to achieve technical cooperation between agencies and interested national governments to address this challenge.