More education on sustainable development? If it is good…


This blog looks at the way that textbooks can help or hinder the provision of education for sustainable development. 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 Tobias Ide

Many calls have been launched to enhance access to education. The Millennium Development Goals, for instance, explicitly aimed to ‘achieve universal primary education’. Access to education is also a key requirement for sustainable development. Thanks to an increasing number of studies on the issue, we now know that people only act on environmental problems if they know (i) how these problems affect them, and (ii) what can be done to address these problems. This knowledge can hardly be established without sufficient access to education in general, and to education for sustainable development in particular. Consequentially, the Sustainable Development Goals demand: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.”

But while expanding access to education is of utmost importance, the quality of education is extremely relevant as well. Badly designed or implemented education might even be counter-productive. Continue reading

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What’s between the lines of your textbook?


This blog provides some guidelines for teachers and students when reviewing the contents of their own textbooks, to consider how they incorporate sustainability, human rights, gender equality, peace and non-violence, global citizenship and an appreciation of cultural diversity. It is accompanied by an activity sheet that can be used in the classroom. It is part of a series of blogs that seeks to encourage debates around a new GEM Report Policy Paper: Between the Lines, which focuses on 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 an important resource in all classrooms – they have informative content, as well as exercises and activities that help students learn. But textbooks also reflect the values and norms in our society; they make assumptions about the roles people should play, and can perpetuate stereotypes. Sometimes they tell only a small part of a much bigger story, and what they don’t say, rather than what they do, can leave out valuable perspectives or the experiences of certain people.

Who is represented?

thanksgivingIn addition to the explicit information that students learn, textbooks convey implicit messages and ideas through text and images. Ideally the types of people and relationships depicted in our textbooks will reflect the diversity of human experiences in our societies. For example: are men and women equally represented? What sort of activities are they shown doing, and what messages does that send about what boys and girls should strive for, or how they should act or behave now and in the future? Continue reading

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Viet Nam: Using Textbooks and Curricula for Gender Equality


This blog looks at how recent textbook reforms in Viet Nam have worked to improve gender equality. 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 Mr. Tran Kim Tu, Vice Director of the Department of Teachers and Education Administrators of the Ministry of Education and Training and Vice Chairman of the Committee for the Advancement of Women in the Education Sector

Textbooks and curricula contain more than just facts and figures that should be learnt at school: they hold the transformative power to shape the attitudes, beliefs and values of children and young people of all ages and backgrounds.

These educational tools serve as a repository for the diverse knowledge we hope to transfer to our students through literature, history, science, mathematics and many other subjects in Viet Nam, empowering our citizens to cultivate the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are conducive to inclusive and equitable learning and environmental awareness.

viet-nam-1However, the development of good textbooks and curricula is a never-ending process that requires constant revision, upgrading and improvement. Despite Viet Nam’s progress to eliminate gender disparities and achieve gender equality in education, gender discrimination and bias still remain prevalent in many different forms, one of which is through textbooks.

In recognition of this, the Vietnamese Education Sector has taken action to develop recommendations for gender-sensitive strategies and policies; enhance the capacity and awareness of thousands of educational managers, teachers and students on gender equality; and to equip education officials at all levels with knowledge and skills related to mainstreaming gender equality into educational planning, management and policy-making.

vietnam-improves-gender-sterotypes-in-the-classroom Continue reading

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With the “Rise of Children,” So Too Must Textbooks Reflect Children’s Rights


This blog looks at the way that textbooks cover children’s rights. 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 Christine Min Wotipka, Associate Professor (Teaching) of Education at Stanford University

Dramatic changes in the way we think of children have occurred around the world over the past century. The notion of children as small adults, or in a stage of becoming adults, has been replaced with one that consider children as being in a unique stage of identity. This means children are viewed as having rights not only as humans, but also as children.


Syrian Refugee in Lebanon. Credit: Justine Redman

At the same time, children are seen as having human capital potential – educate them now and they will mature into contributing members of society and the labor force. However they are viewed, the global ascendancy of children can be measured in several interesting ways, including how they are represented in school textbooks.

On one hand, there has been rapid growth in international efforts focused on the rights of children. Among the most significant is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), now ratified by 195 countries. Within all international human rights treaties, violations against children is one of the most frequently mentioned.

Children’s rights are also a concern of a growing number of international governmental and non-governmental organizations such as Peace Child International and the International Save the Children Alliance. Not only has the number of these organizations increased, but so, too, have the number of countries whose citizens are members of such organizations. Children are central to many of the Sustainable Development Goals as well.

School textbooks, we argue, play a critical role in how countries display and promote their values. Currently over 90 percent of school-age children around the world attend primary school; roughly two-thirds are in secondary school. Once there, students spend the majority of their classroom time with textbooks.

childrens.pngResearch being conducted by my colleagues and I has shown dramatic changes in school textbooks over the past century. Exposure to human rights topics is the norm in most countries. Specific to children, we find that among newer textbooks, 1 in 3 mention children’s rights. About 1 in 5 refer to children as victims. These changes are significant compared with textbooks published in prior decades and they are occurring in all regions of the world.

In their 30-year effort to achieve a child-centered system of education, and under the guidance of the 2005 National Curriculum Framework, textbooks from India provide some interesting examples. In Social and Political Life, read by 8th graders, students learn The Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution, including the prohibition against employment of children under 14 years of age. The trafficking of children and child marriage are also raised.

Discussion of child rights in these textbooks are not restricted to just India. For example, the book asks children to consider how Indian secularism differs from that of other democratic countries. In a sidebar example is a description of how many children in the United States start their school day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the phrase “under God.” It goes on to say that even though children have the right to not recite the Pledge if it conflicts with their beliefs, many legal challenges have been raised due to what is seen as a violation of the separation between Church and State guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


ARETE/Ivan Flores/GEM Report

How groups and individuals are depicted in school curricula contributes to children’s understandings of themselves and others. As the new GEM Report policy paper shows, positive and inclusive materials can influence whether children from a minority ethnic group think they can get involved in politics or whether a girl believes she can become an engineer.

Similarly, it has been argued that countries whose textbooks teach children about their rights end up with children who grow up to be better prepared to engage as active citizens and to support human rights.

There is little doubt that the world is paying more attention to the unique rights of children. Such efforts trickle down into the hands of children during the school day. What is needed is a better understanding of why some countries do a better job of including empowering images of children. What characteristics of countries matter? Wealth? More democracy? A clean record on human rights violations? Or perhaps connections to other countries that actively promote the rights of children? Emulation is a strong force – among the children who read textbooks as well as among the countries that look to others, typically in their region, as they revise them.

As we celebrate the world’s growing attention and concern for the rights of children, let us do what we can to make children aware of these rights. And let us not gloss over the importance of textbooks for helping us do that. With a better understanding of themselves and other children, the next generation is better prepared to be defenders of rights for all.

Posted in Africa, Arab States, Asia, Basic education, curriculum, Human rights, Teachers, teaching, textbooks, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Out of date textbooks put sustainable development at risk.

Today, we’ve launched a new study into secondary school textbooks around the world, continuing our focus on the content of education, which we began in the 2016 GEM Report with a focus on curricula.

Our focus on textbooks comes from a strong belief that few instruments shape children’s and young people’s minds more powerfully than the teaching and learning materials used in schools. Often, textbooks are the first, and sometimes only books that a young person may read. They don’t just teach about facts, but also convey social values, political identities, and an understanding of history and the world. Teachers and students trust textbooks as authoritative and objective sources of information. Here we aim to hold governments to account for the truth behind that trust.


Our new analysis looks at secondary school textbooks in history, civics, social studies and geography from the 1950s until 2011. The materials were drawn from the Georg Eckert Institute in Germany, which holds the most extensive collection of textbooks from around the world in these subjects. One of the most in-depth analyses of textbooks ever done, it shows that many have missed or misrepresented key priorities now shown as crucial to achieve sustainable developmentContinue reading

Posted in Africa, Arab States, Asia, Basic education, Conflict, curriculum, Developed countries, Developing countries, Environment, Equity, Gender, Human rights, immigration, integrated development, Latin America, Literacy, parity, Teachers, teaching, textbooks, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Shortening the journey from information to understanding: The new UIS website goes live

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

uis-blogThe new UIS website, launched today, offers compelling, innovative ways to find – and use – the best available information on what is happening in education, science, culture and communication worldwide. The new site represents a radical shift in the way we present our data. Rather than sending our visitors to complex databases, the new site zeroes in on the kind of information that people want in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals, packaged in the way that is most useful for them.

The biggest innovation has been to ‘unpack’ the UIS database, breaking down the once separate siloes of hard data, analysis (reports) and the story-telling provided by data visualisations and other tools. Now our web users can see the data in their full context. Continue reading

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National learning assessments: there’s more to gain than valuable data


learning-blog-1By Carmela Maria Salzano, International Development Consultant

While the drive to benchmark global progress in improving education outcomes, and to increase the evidence-base for education policy making, has imbued the dialogue around monitoring SDG 4.1 with a strongly technical hue, the GEM Report’s World Education Blog has underscored that “…this is far from just a technical debate. Rather, it goes to the heart of what we aspire to in education for the next generation.” 

Countries’ national learning assessments show which outcomes are valued, and how they handle equity

4-1National learning assessments, which are a key source of the global data for SDG 4.1, show the extent to which ‘all girls and boys….[are acquiring] relevant and effective learning outcomes’ while revealing important information on the types of knowledge and skills now valued by different education systems. But they can also tell us much about how far governments have integrated their commitments to equity and raising learning standards for all learners across all components of their education systems.

Beyond the traditional markers of expenditures per child, curriculum, pedagogy and teaching practice, the importance of national examinations systems as a key driver of equity is often overlooked. Yet the influence of assessment practice on ensuring equitable outcomes becomes apparent when we consider how many (and what types) of learners are included, or left out, by current methods of testing.

To this extent, the current spotlight on national learning assessments opens up an important window of opportunity to discuss the deeper transformations needed in national examinations systems worldwide. Such discussions may contribute to the development of mechanisms for recording the broader spectrum of skills and higher-order knowledge now recognized as ‘relevant and effective’ outcomes of learning within our new global education goal. At the very least, the global dialogue may help to stress the need for more inclusive assessment policies enabling a greater diversity of learners to have their skills recognized and validated. Continue reading

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