The Textbook as a Leading Learning Tool
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The Textbook as a Leading Learning Tool

Photo by:   Santiago Gutierrez
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By Santiago Gutiérrez - Pearson
VP of English Language Learning for Hispanoamerica


Defending the value and importance of textbooks in education might sound old-fashioned in times of technological change, after the educational paradigm took a radical turn with hybrid routines, digitization and the emergence of a pandemic that forced the world's students to take remote classes.

However, the truth is that the importance of the textbook has remained intact for centuries. Some researchers highlight its forerunners, such as the publication of the Emblematum Liber by Andrea Alciato, an Italian jurist who in 1531 published a text with illustrations that sought to create allegorical and moralizing compositions by combining words and images, a novelty for the Western culture of the time that became a very popular genre in the 16th and 17th centuries.

With long tradition, illustrated books are a reference of our daily life. Children who are starting to develop reading skills rely on short and simple thematic books, both at school and at home. They will then move on to school textbooks whose content is usually determined by established national curricula, and which will include the appropriate language for each age regarding images, texts and words.

According to the World Bank, countries that buy textbooks to distribute to their students are making a safe investment. Textbooks are accessible, easy to handle and have more symbolic than material value when compared to a cellphone or a laptop, which seems like an obvious detail but it is not. UNESCO reports that until September 2021, about 117 million students (7.5 percent of the world's school population) were still affected by the total closure of schools in 18 countries. Virtual classes are an option that is not as accessible to everyone as textbooks are, especially when it comes those that are massively distributed.

Our most recent example of this is what happened during the pandemic with school connectivity and access: how many students in Latin America were left out of the educational system due to lack of internet access, but were able to use printed material? Students with good textbooks at their disposal can work in a relatively autonomous way. Therefore, it is possible for students with different skills and learning needs to work at their own pace on what is most pertinent to them.

This new pedagogical experience forced students and teachers to adapt quickly, be creative and exchange roles. For many teachers, textbooks became the only source of knowledge about the contents of the curriculum. This is especially true when facing a lack of adequate training for teachers or difficulties to readjust their preparation to new subjects or specific content.

It has been shown that students learn more with textbooks than without them, among other reasons because books are a meeting point between students and teachers, which sets a criterion that permeates the learning process. The transition from physical to digital books is only partial, as both formats can coexist.

The debate on the importance of school textbooks in times of digitization reminds me of the story of the Bengali economist Amartya Sen, who expanded the paradigm for measuring the development of countries based on hard numbers (per capita income or variation in GDP) by incorporating into the measurement concepts such as life expectancy, individual freedom and the notion that development involves stimulating human capacities and allowing individuals to pursue what they value. It's an example that allows us to validate the symbolic value of certain goods, when quality is the true measure of their significance.

Photo by:   Santiago Gutierrez

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