On 9 July at the UK’s Global Education Reform Summit in Westminster, one of Barack Obama’s top education advisers announced to the audience that textbooks are “outdated as soon as they are printed”, and urged schools on both sides of the Atlantic to get rid of textbooks in the next five years.
But, is it realistic to expect the traditional textbook to die out, or are they simply redundant in the face of new technological developments?
Richard Culatta is the Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US Department of Education, so it is not unexpected that he might make the bold claim that textbooks are no longer necessary. He is an advocate of ‘Open Educational Resources’, which promote user-friendliness and collaboration, at odds with how he perceives a textbook to be: outdated, not adaptable and inaccessible.
Culatta spoke about digital resources and their ability to benefit those who don’t want to work in a ‘linear’ fashion, to help partially-sighted pupils who need to read bigger text and students who work in different languages who need to select a word for a definition. Others have suggested that ‘Open Educational Resources’ are much cheaper than traditional textbooks, give teachers more freedom to adapt the curriculum and allow for a wider range of assignments and activities.
Of course, the potential benefits of technology in the classroom are not insignificant, and could change the face of teaching and learning for the better. Many teachers appear to be embracing new technology. At YPO, we have seen growing demand from schools for tablets and we have sold more than 10,000 tablets this year alone. The use of resources, such as tablets, provides students with the flexibility and opportunity to continue learning where and when they choose. Instant access to a wealth of information and resources is also offered through a range of different apps and programs.
But whilst it may be true to say that open resources and technology might play a more significant role in the classroom in the future, for the time being, the textbook is most certainly not redundant. We need to ensure that in the bid to ‘make the future digital,’ we do not lose the well-honed elements of textbooks that support learning in schools.
At YPO, we recognise that textbooks still have an important role to play within the education sector, which is why we are committed to offering a balance of printed and digital resources for schools. There is great reason to believe that there is still an appetite for textbooks amongst teachers and students, which is why we’re currently exploring further additions to our range.
The importance of the textbook is reinforced by the current Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb. He has been working with teachers and publishers to promote the importance of textbooks in schools. Mr Gibb spoke of the importance of working from textbooks last year, saying that they give pupils a more structured education, save schools money and help parents support their sons and daughters outside school.
In the 2014 research paper 'Why textbooks count', backed by Mr Gibb himself, it was found that schools in highly performing countries use textbooks more than schools here, sparking worries that English schools are falling behind due to their reluctance to embrace the textbook. In England, the paper found that only 4% of science teachers use textbooks as a basis for instruction, compared with a figure of 68% in Singapore and 94% in Finland.
Whilst we are not denying that technology is important, the role of the high-quality, knowledge-rich textbook should not be underestimated in supporting effective teaching and learning, and realising the objectives of the national curriculum in modern schools.