Transforming education: what role will be given to textbooks and under what conditions?
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On 16, 17 and 19 September 2022, the World Summit on the Transformation of Education was held in New York. Its aim was to find a suitable response to the education crisis. At stake, and beyond the challenge of equity and equality, is the adaptation of education systems to their purposes. As the UN Secretary-General stated, education no longer provides, for young people and adults alike, "the knowledge, experience, skills, or values needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Learning continues to underplay skills, including problem solving, critical thinking and empathy" (page 1). Teachers are at the heart of the quality of education. Quality has multiple facets. UNESCO, at its summit in Paris in June 2022, listed five: quality of schools, learning and skills, teachers and teaching, learning and digital transformation, and funding for education.
Where would the textbook fit on that shortlist? At all levels, the textbook is intended to be present in school, to facilitate learning and skills' acquisition, to serve as a planning tool and source of documents, information and exercises for both teacher and learner, and should be made available in digital versions. How could we think of the transformation of education without bearing in mind the quality of a pedagogical tool that is so difficult to avoid? What would this quality consist of and what would it be determined by? Who would be entrusted with this task and how could its success be ensured?
It is with a view to helping answer these questions among others that we decided in 2019 to bring together, with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation of Yaoundé, a team of researchers concerning the ongoing textbook crisis in Cameroon.
Textbooks in Cameroon: an overview of the current state-of-play
The work was in two stages. The first phase focused on political issues and placed the onus on highlighting the way in which the processes of making textbooks available in Cameroon led to the crisis. It resulted in the production of a collective work . The second focused on technical issues related to the production of quality manuals. The already completed contributions will soon be published under the title Améliorer les manuels scolaires au Cameroun : enquête sur les déterminants de la qualité (Improving textbooks in Cameroon: a survey on the determinants of quality).
In the first series of reflections carried out within the framework of this project, the experts analysed the following issues:
- Made a diagnosis and profiled solutions: mixed consideration of the skills of the 21st century (Prof. Fotsing Mangoua);
- Showed unsatisfactory quality /price ratios from the parents of alumnis’ perspectives (survey by Dr Basile Difouo);
- Cited ethical conflict between the "outside" and the "inside" - poorly managed owing to a "tyranny of the official programme that neglects to associate the cultural, social and economic aspects" (Dr Foulla Damna Appolinaire);
- Raised questionable skills of the main sectorial stakeholders and weak control of production processes (Prof. Renée Solange Nkeck Bidias) ;
- Explained debatable selection rules since, as pointed out by Prof. Patricia Bissa Enama, "an elaborate and agreed list of manuals reveals the threat of centralisation, monopolisation and absolutism harmful to the valorisation of knowledge in its idiosyncrasies and nuances";
- The proven shortfall of manual numbers on the market and reaching the hands of end users (Prof. Lilian Lem Atanga);
- Absence of a genuine policy for the cultural sector in general and the book sub-sector in particular with serious consequences (Ghemkam T. Grâce Alvine).
- This diagnosis revealed "the imperative of integrating the textbook reform into the general reform of the education system and, in the long run, with a view to drawing up (finally!) a genuine national education policy" (Prof. Jacques Evouna).
Towards quality textbooks
For the second series, the task of the team of experts was to inventory the determinants of the quality of textbooks and to focus thinking on the disciplinary content, the cross-cutting aspects, the stakeholders in the process and the production process itself.
With regard to the quality of disciplinary content, Professor Evouna focused his work on French-language textbooks and found that the qualitative deficit results from the obsolescence of certain educational content which he links to a certain mistrust maintained with regard to the results of university research in reflection on school content. This qualitative shortcoming is accentuated by the unsuitability of the corpus used and pedagogical inadequacy.
Dr Tamekamta has examined the construction of the contents on humanities and social sciences textbooks and made it clear that official curricula were not taken into account. The gap between the official curricula and the textbooks produced was reflected in their poor quality.
Regarding textbooks' transversal qualities, Dr Difouo notes the non-compliance of textbooks with the current pedagogical approach, the Competency-Based Approach (APC in French), based on the analysis of the textbooks of Languages/Literatures and Human Sciences of the Cameroonian program. He grafts onto it the overly weak contextualisation and the predominance of passive techniques.
Analysing the textbooks used in mathematics and English, class 4 and CE2 (primary education), form 1 and classes of the 5th year (secondary education) in the Cameroonian educational programme, Professor Lilian Atanga and Dr Fotso Guesche note the very low level of incorporation of material that calls for critical reflection, probably due to the lack of intentionality and therefore the product of systematisation.
Mr Kaffo states that the criterion of inclusion had not been taken into account in the official selection of textbooks, probably due to the pending legal gaps in Cameroonian legislation as well as the absence of an assessment mechanism to be used.
Closing this section, Dr Rachel Sonkin grounds her views on two history textbooks, one from 1957, the other from 1985, that that show that the postcolonial schooling system in Cameroon has preserved the subject matters from this colonial era.
Dealing with stakeholders’ quality in the manual chain, Mr Kaffo concludes that the author's profile (a combination of his three technical, professional and civil identities) must be carefully defined, the latter repositioned at the centre of the manual chain and its socio-economic profile upgraded.
Mr Fabrice Amougou and Mr Serge Kouam, themselves professional publishers, after analysis, state that the role (and therefore the responsibility) of the textbook publisher is and must remain auxiliary to that of the State and that attention must be paid to the links between taxation, the unavailability/scarcity of iconographic and documentary resources, and the quality or lack of quality of the textbook.
The final reflection, that of Dr Lekane Brigitte on the production process itself, highlights the risks of the systemic approach in force before proposing, as an alternative model, network interventionism and the unique financial ordering which would make the State the authority responsible for orders that procures all the resulting production.
Le Manuel scolaire au Cameroun : enjeux, diagnostic et esquisses de solutions pour une politique sectorielle (The School Manual in Cameroon: challenges, diagnosis and sketches of solutions for a sectoral policy), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Yaoundé (Cameroon), 2019.
In particular a single book policy adopted in 2017 in official texts.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.