Thursday 24th November, 2005

 

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Providing textbooks for all

By Brenda R James

Learning materials are indispensable to education. In order for students to fully participate in and make meaning of curriculum activities, it is critical that they have access to a wide variety of learning materials in all the formats in which they are available and which are relevant to the various experiences in the curriculum. These formats include both print and non-print formats.

Some examples of the non-print format are audio CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs, multimedia kits, electronic databases including the Internet, computer software, games, toys, puzzles. Those in the non-print format include journals, magazines, charts and books, just to name a few.

Educational institutions utilise all of these materials and their students interact differently with each of these types of materials, thereby deriving the peculiar benefits which each has on the learning process.

However, the most fundamental of all of these is the textbook which has survived centuries and which continues to hold its own in the electronic world as it is the most easily accessible of all the materials available.

The Ministry of Education, through its Textbook Rental/Loan Programme (TRP), ensures that all its students have easy and affordable access to the learning materials required for the core curriculum areas. This is part of the ministry’s efforts towards achieving equity in the provision of educational opportunities and towards equalising the playing field in the access of education.

In the classroom, textbooks provide students with common stimuli and points of reference for curriculum content and discussion. It is perhaps for this reason that they are relied on, maybe even over-relied on. As the most basic of learning materials, textbooks allow for affordability (more than the materials in the more expensive non-print formats) in the education process and have been used worldwide to achieve this.

The Ministry of Education found that many families could not have afforded the basic textbook requirements of their respective programmes (mainly because of the exorbitant cost) and were therefore unable to have acquired the required materials to fully participate in the learning activities of their curriculum.

Not only could they not afford the textbooks because of the ever increasing costs but a number of them could not access the educational opportunities provided by the State because of the sheer high cost of the total education package.

In recognition of all this, the ministry over the last three years has embarked on a comprehensive package of support mechanisms in a bid to ensure that all students, regardless of economic and social circumstance, possess all required learning materials to fully take part in the educational opportunities provided.

The ministry determined that this was critical to the fulfilment of its strategic objective to provide quality education for all with equity. A full range of support programmes was therefore developed for all students. The Textbook Rental Programme is but one of these support programmes. Others include the school meals programme and the school transportation programme. The use of school psychologists and social workers is another of the ministry’s programmes in support of our students.

The TRP itself aims to ensure that:

n Students are provided with required learning materials in the core curriculum component areas.

n The materials provided are of a high standard.

n The materials are easily accessible to all students.

The programme was designed to replace the book grant of $1,000 at each academic level at which it was introduced. This was because the book grant was found not to be too cost beneficial and proved difficult to control as a number of students went through the academic year without textbooks as the grant in a number of instances was not being used on the acquisition of learning materials and where it was, the prices of the textbooks prevent the acquisition of all that was required.

The ministry, in designing the programme, adopted a number of measures to ensure that the students would be provided with quality textbooks. The Cabinet-appointed Textbook Evaluation Committee (TEC) was strengthened in terms of its composition. The instrument for the evaluation of the textbooks was reviewed and enhanced to achieve the standards required by the new curriculum. A comprehensive system was set up for the review of the textbooks.

Experienced professionals such as teachers, school supervisors, curriculum officers and tertiary-level lecturers are used in the evaluation exercise as reviewers and moderators to ensure that the best available textbooks which conform to the curriculum, uses modern teaching and learning methodologies and which have high standards in terms of language and editorial quality are utilised in the school system.

Reviewers are chosen for their experience in the trenches and for their subject area expertise. Principals’ associations are represented on the TEC and the representatives form part of the moderation panels which are part of the review process. In addition, specialised training is provided for the reviewers.

The ministry uses the textbooks from the evaluation process to formulate its list of approved textbooks for use in the school system. These textbooks are provided for students under the TRP. In addition, the ministry prescribes that schools use the textbooks in the respective areas on its approved list as the compulsory textbooks and should not require students to purchase any other textbooks as compulsory textbooks in the respective subject areas.

Some of these textbooks require a major paradigm shift on the part of some teachers who may require training in the new methodologies utilised in the approved textbooks. Steps are being taken to help our educators realise this. Schools are encouraged to include in their school libraries those textbooks which did not make it on the approved list as these are useful in their treatment of specific topics in the curriculum.

In recognition of the impact this initiative would have had on the textbook industry, the ministry established two supporting committees to develop the local textbook sector—the Textbook Development and Research Committee and the National Textbook Committee.

The former is responsible inter alia for developing and updating, through research, a textbook development plan for the country and for making recommendations for the development of skills of all the different types of professionals involved in the book industry and for the enhancement of the infrastructures for aspects of the book trade.

The latter is a standing committee responsible for developing and constantly reviewing a national textbook policy, for developing training workshops for the professionals in the book industry, developing the guidelines and recommended standards for the operation of the sector and generally for co-ordinating all activities in respect of textbook development, production, evaluation, distribution and evaluation.

The vision is that these committees achieve the aims of developing a solid and vibrant local textbook industry from quality textbooks for local and Caribbean curricula are produced and in which all the various activities achieve the required harmonisation and which redound to the benefit of all educators and students.

Textbook here is used as a generic term to include the learning resources which accompany them including cassettes, workbooks and CDs and teacher resource materials.

To be continued tomorrow

Brenda R James is programme co-ordinator of the Textbook Rental Programme Unit

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