textbooks for all
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 ministrys
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
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 ministrys 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 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
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 sectorthe
Textbook Development and Research Committee and the National
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