A new study by the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report shows how secondary school textbooks from the 1950s until 2011 missed or misrepresented key priorities now shown as crucial to achieve sustainable development. With textbooks only revised every 5-10 years, the analysis reveals the need for governments to urgently reassess their textbooks to ensure that they reflect core values for sustainable development, including human rights, gender equality, environmental concern, global citizenship and peace and conflict resolution.
The paper had the following key findings:
- The percentage of textbooks mentioning human rights increased from 28% to 50% between 1970-1979 and 2000-2011, with the greatest increase in sub-Saharan Africa.
- But, from 2000-2011, only 9% of textbooks discussed rights of people with disabilities and 3% cover the rights of LGBTI people.
- Only 14% of textbooks from 2000-2011 mention immigrant and refugee rights.
- The percentage of textbooks mentioning women’s rights increased from 15% in the 1946-1969 period to 37% in the 2000-2011 period. Only a sixth of textbooks in Northern Africa and Western Asia mention women’s rights at all.
- Despite the explicit messages advocating against gender inequality, gender bias remains a significant problem. Many textbooks, including in Algeria, France, Italy, Spain, Uganda, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Kenya and Zimbabwe show women in submissive or traditional roles like cleaning and serving men.
- Some countries like Vietnam, have revised their textbooks to better illustrate gender equality.
- During 2000-2011, environmental protection or damage was discussed in half of all textbooks; more than double the percentage between 1970-1979.
- From 2000-2011, only 30% of textbooks discussed environmental issues as a global problem.
- Only 10% of textbooks from 2000-2011 explicitly mention conflict prevention or resolution. Sri Lanka is one country that has introduced reconciliation mechanisms into textbooks recently in order to promote peace and social cohesion.
- Over half of 72 secondary school textbooks analysed in 15 countries related Islam and Arab societies to conflict, nationalism, extremism or terrorism.
- From 2000-2008, 25% of textbooks mention global citizenship, compared with 13% in the 1980s.
- But, 60% of countries’ textbooks in the late 2000s have no mention of activities outside of their borders.