Textbooks and educational materials: carriers not barriers

In classrooms around the world – not only in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) but also in many higher-income countries – textbooks give structure to teaching and learning opportunities. Textbooks represent a fundamental way in which national curriculum requirements are disseminated to teachers and implemented in schools. In order to bring Target 4.7 themes and values and social and emotional learning to life in LMIC classrooms, these elements need to be embedded not only in national education policies but also in the content and pedagogy of subjects in which textbooks are utilized. 

We recognize that stand-alone SEL curricula – supported by appropriate teacher or student materials – can be effective, but we also understand that in many public education settings, the curriculum subjects provide the most direct means for influencing what, how and how much students learn. We also appreciate that core subjects represent well-developed bodies of knowledge and communities of practice. We seek to expand these bodies of knowledge and engage with these communities of practice. In language teaching, for example, there can be more awareness of SEL and SDG Target 4.7 goals of learning empathy, interpersonal skills, and conflict management. This can be reinforced through discussion of stories, including both fiction and inspirational biographies, as well as in language skills practice (NISSEM Global Briefs, Vol. 4). In the teaching of science and social science, students can be encouraged to find ways in which core concepts can be linked to societal and environmental concerns (see ‘Putting our ideas into action’), using SEL-enriched pedagogy.

Textbooks can become levers of transformative change when they embed sound SEL-based pedagogy and support teachers’ capacities. They can provide national and global examples of sustainable and humanistic content, enriched by SEL, which engage students’ interest and integrate a pedagogy appropriate to each subject domain. In this way, ‘making the abstract concrete’ by means of textbook content and pedagogy can bridge the disconnect between government policy commitments and actual practice.