Are textbooks out of fashion?

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

In a recent speech to educational publishers, Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss eulogised the  wonders of the humble school textbook. Textbooks, she said, gave students reliable access to an agreed core of ‘essential knowledge’ about a subject, and provided students with a sense of ownership of their subjects. And yet schools in England are using textbooks far less than their PISA-topping counterparts: educational overachievers like Singapore, Poland and Germany. In science teaching for 14 year olds around the world, an average of 74% of teachers  use textbooks as the basis for instruction – 88% in Korea, 92% in Chinese Taipei. But in England the equivalent figure is only 8 per cent.

So what are teachers in England using as the ‘basis for instruction’ instead of textbooks? The minister says it is worksheets, and Elizabeth Truss paints a pitiful picture of teachers spending all their time looking for information and  photocopying resources, only to have their worksheets ‘getting covered in orange juice in the school bag – getting lost, mixed up and half-destroyed in on the way home.’ Teachers, she says, ‘want to teach, not produce materials.’

We are very proud of The Complete Companion series of textbooks at OUP, and we would certainly hope that students and teachers find them useful. It is hard to say exactly what makes a textbook into a good textbook – perhaps a combination of reliability, accessibility, good design and interesting material? But should even the best textbook in the world take over from a teacher’s knowledge of their own class as the ‘basis for instruction’? It would be interesting to hear your views on this…



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