Outdated textbooks stunt sustainable development, says UNESCO

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A new Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, at the behest of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), shows that secondary school textbooks from the 1950s until 2011 missed, or misrepresented key priorities, which are crucial to the achievement of sustainable development.

With textbooks only revised every five to 10 years, the study reveals the compelling need for governments to urgently reassess their textbooks to ensure that they reflect core values for sustainable development, which include human rights, gender equality, environmental concern, global citizenship, as well as, peace and conflict resolution.

The analysis, released around International Day of Human Rights, looked at secondary school textbooks in history, civics, social studies and geography. 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.

The GEM Report therefore, calls on governments to urgently review the content of their textbooks to ensure values are in line with the principles in the new UN Sustainable Development Agenda (SDGs). It calls for the values of the SDGs to be built into national guidelines used during textbook review, and taught in workshops for textbook writers and illustrators.

Commenting on the issue, Director of the GEM Report UNESCO, Aaron Benavot, said “Textbooks convey the core values and priorities of each society and are used extensively in classrooms around the world to shape what students learn. Our new analysis shows the extent to which most former students now in their 20s were taught from textbooks that had little if anything to say about the core values of sustainable development.”

He added, “Textbook revision is infrequent, and often involves slight revisions, rather than overhauls of content. In addition, governments simply don’t realise just how out of touch their textbooks are. Our research shows that they must take a much closer look at what children and adolescents are being taught.”

Key findings in the latest report indicate that the percentage of textbooks mentioning human rights increased from 28 per cent to 50 per cent between 1970 and1979 and from 2000 to 2011, with the greatest increase in sub-Saharan Africa. But, from 2000-2011, only 9 per cent of textbooks discussed rights of people with disabilities and 3 per cent cover the rights of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people. Only 14 per cent of textbooks from 2000 to 2011 mention immigrant and refugee rights.

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