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«Effective Use of Textbooks: A Neglected Aspect of Education in Pakistan Razia Fakir Mohammad Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan ...»

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Journal of Education for International Development 3:1 September 2007

Effective Use of Textbooks: A Neglected Aspect of Education in Pakistan

Razia Fakir Mohammad

Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University, Pakistan

Roshni Kumari

Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University, Pakistan

Given the significant role that textbooks play in many countries of the developing world, the

paper highlights issues related to the use of the textbook in rural Pakistan, and identifies ways to improve upon current practices. The findings presented in this paper emerge from our analysis of teachers’ experiences and practices related to the use of Science textbooks in public schools.

Since the existing knowledge base is limited on teachers’ actual use of the textbook, the paper attempts to fill in this gap by highlighting the various issues related to teachers’ perceptions and practices. These include teachers’ limited use of textbooks, access to textbooks, information gaps and limitations of textbooks – all working to restrict the use of the textbook as a learning resource. The paper concludes by offering recommendations on improving textbook usage in Pakistan.

Keywords: Textbooks, Teacher Training, Pakistan


“The textbook is, in fact, the heart of the school and without the ubiquitous text there would be no schools, at least as we know them.” (Ian Westbury, cited in Oakes & Saunders, 2004) Given the significant role that textbooks play in many countries of the developing world, the paper highlights the need for improvement through discussing issues related to access and use of the textbook in a rural context in Pakistan. The findings presented in this paper emerge from our analysis of teachers’ experiences and practices related to the use of science textbooks in their classrooms.

This paper highlights the various issues related to teachers’ perceptions and practices, for example, their limited use and appreciation of the textbook, access to textbooks, various Mohammad & Kumari 1 Journal of Education for International Development 3:1 September 2007 information gaps and limitations of the textbook – thus, restricting the textbook’s use as a helpful learning resource. The issues have serious implications for teaching and learning outcomes in a context where teachers and students have limited access to any other instructional materials.

Since it is imperative that the textbook plays a pivotal role in rural public settings, this paper argues that school improvement in such contexts should be based on textbook reform.

The paper offers some recommendations to improve the textbook and suggests ways to turn it into a powerful tool for teaching and learning. It is envisaged that this discussion will help teachers, teacher educators, textbook writers and policy makers to review and reflect on their role in bringing reform to the existing situation. We conclude that although various innovations and inputs are being made in the area of teacher education, without facilitating teachers in making effective use of the textbook, learning outcomes cannot be achieved, as teachers’ ultimate decisions are made on the basis of the textbook.


Textbooks are at the heart of educational enterprise, as they offer students “a rich array of new and potentially interesting facts, and open the door to a world of fantastic experience” (Chambliss & Calfee, 1998. p.7). The literature provides evidence of the significant role of textbooks as “primary vehicles for delivering content knowledge, for determining in large measure what goes on in a class” (e.g. Hummel, 1998, cited in Lebrun, Lenoir, Laforest, Larose, Roy, Spallanzani & Pearson, 2002), and for assessing what students do and do not learn (e.g.

Freeman & Porter, 1989, cited in Oakes & Saunders, 2004). It has been identified that access to and availability of textbooks is a particularly significant factor in predicting academic achievement (Heyneman et al, 1978, cited in Oakes & Saunders, 2004).

In this post-modern world of technological advancement, rapidly changing markets and increasing competition, teachers are faced with new academic and pedagogical challenges. In order to prepare students, teachers must teach more challenging and extensive subject areas, develop different instructional strategies and reach a wider range of students. Having a highquality curriculum to guide instruction is an important part of meeting these challenges.

Therefore, curriculum reforms need to take place in such a way that gaps between the curricular framework and the textbook are bridged and the needs of learners from diverse backgrounds are reflected in curricula and textbooks. Curricula and the textbooks should be more meaningful and relevant for the life experiences of the students and should prepare them for real life.

Certainly textbooks need improvement; what aspect of the profession of schooling doesn’t? And certainly teachers need help in making intelligent use of the textbooks we have and those the future will hold for us. And certainly students, especially, the more capable ones, should be led to see textbooks as only the beginning, a springboard for further explorations into other sources of knowledge.

(Maxwell, 1985, p.73) The centrality and dominance of textbooks, especially in the context of developing countries, has been reiterated and highlighted by various writers. Maxwell, for example, identifies their role as

–  –  –

the organizing centers for the instructional program and as the most dominant element in classrooms aside from teachers, students and physical space: ‘The text determines what is taught, when it is taught, and how it is taught” (1985, p.68). The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also recognize the central importance and role of textbooks in the context of developing countries and disadvantaged contexts. The World Bank, for example, suggests that reforms be initiated in relation to textbooks in developing countries; textbooks being a “critical part of education, as necessary as classroom itself, as indispensable as the classroom teacher” (De Guzman, 2000, cited in Oakes & Saunders, 2004).

Similarly, research in the area of teacher education in Pakistan indicates that teachers mostly teach to impart basic knowledge or textbook content to students. Such an approach typically results in poor academic performance (for example, see Mohammad, 1994). Some research does identify a positive link between student achievement and the role of textbooks (e.g., Fuller & Clark, 1994; Fuller & Heyneman (1989) cited in Oakes & Saunders, 2004).

As evident from the above discussion, textbooks serve a central role in educational quality reform. Abbas (1993) reported on several attempts that have been made to update Pakistani textbooks in order to address students’ needs and improve quality. What is missing from these attempts, however, is an emphasis on exploring the relationship and interaction between textbooks and the teacher; and how they make use of this resource, (i.e., to identify whether the books actually work as designed, whether teachers can make use of the textbooks as intended, and whether students truly understand the material) (Maxwell, 1985). While Maxwell uses the term “learner verification” of textbooks (1985, p.70); the discussion in our paper suggests ‘user verification’, that is, to also involve teachers in assessing textbooks, as it is the teachers who adapt the textbook and determine how to make use of this resource.

The existing literature does not shed light on this relationship between textbooks and teachers’

actual practice. Lebrun et al. (2002) highlights this gap when they write:

neither textbooks’ classroom use…, their impact on practices, nor the effects of their use on school learning, are really known….[The] literature is deafening in its silence on classroom methods of the use of textbooks by elementary-school teachers and, indeed, by high-school teachers. (p.71) Despite on-going discussions regarding the place of textbooks and related reform, there is a dearth of examination of teachers’ practices related to the effective use of the textbook for developing teaching and learning practices. The findings discussed in this paper attempt to fill in this gap by highlighting some limitations of the content presented in the textbook and its access but, more importantly, by examining issues related to teachers’ limited use of textbooks. Some issues, for example, are related to content of the textbook, whereas, others are related to teachers’ limitations in terms of content and pedagogical content knowledge. The discussion in this paper makes suggestions to teachers, teacher educators, authors and policy makers to review and reflect their contribution in textbook design, use and enrichment.

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The research participants were teachers from the government sector in the rural context who participated in an in-service teacher education programme offered by a private university in Pakistan. They had resumed their respective positions after the completion of an in-service teacher education programme and were involved in improving the teaching and learning situation in their respective institutes.

The schools, where these teachers and teacher educators were placed, had limited resources for teaching and learning. For example, the children would be seated on the floor or various grades or levels would be combined in one small room due to shortage of space, furniture or teachers.

They had very limited exposure and access to any resources other than the textbook. While the Government of Pakistan provides free access to education, due to poor coordination (at provincial and district level), a limited number of books were provided. Those books that are provided often do not reach the students on time. Students, without textbooks, would get punished by the teachers, resulting in absenteeism. Teachers relied on the textbooks to an extent that teaching and learning would not take place in the absence of the textbooks.

The examples presented in this paper emerge from our analysis of (a) teachers’ use of Science text books in the classroom (levels I to VIII), and (b) pre and post conference discussions with the teachers, where they reflected on their practices, the use of the textbooks and limited learning outcomes.

–  –  –

Our analysis of data identifies textbook related issues in terms of two categories:

1. Limited access to the information given in the textbook, i.e., issues related to its clarity and relevance for the students and teachers;

2. Teachers’ limited use and appreciation of the textbook content, i.e., of the information as well as learning aids (pictures and activities) provided in the textbook.

‘Access’ in our paper has been defined in terms of the various gaps in the textbook content that restricted teachers’ and learners’ access to the information. Issues related to ‘use’ refer to teachers’ inability to utilize the textbook effectively, resulting in failure to teach the scientific concepts in an effective way.

Issues Related to Access

Our review uncovers various gaps in the textbooks, for example, lack of clarity of language as well as inadequacy of information given in the textbook. It was noticed in some instances that the language used in the textbook did not clearly define the concepts presented and since the

–  –  –

teachers were also unable to understand it, they inadequately communicated the given information to the students. This is reflected through a number of examples provided below.

▪ Example 1. The concept of ‘lever’ was defined in a Science textbook as a “strong rod or stick on which force is applied on its one end and can be rotated through some support and work is done on the other end.” (Science textbook for Class V, Baluchistan Textbook board, p. 65).

In the above example, it was difficult for the teacher to see how this definition of ‘lever’ could qualify it as a machine when, according to the given definition, force was being exerted on one end and work was also done on the other end (and not ‘through’ the other end); the notion of ‘input’ and ‘output’ did not get clearly communicated through this definition. Since the teacher lacked adequate scientific knowledge, he could not identify the linguistic error in this definition and, therefore, asked the students to memorize the definition as it was given in the textbook without helping them understand the scientific notion.

There were also examples where the information provided in the textbook would either be incorrect or there would be a misprint creating a barrier to understanding the concept.

▪ Example 2. The Science textbook states, “In the Fahrenheit scale, the freezing point for water is 273 degree Kelvin and boiling point is 373 degree Kelvin. In the Kelvin scale, the freezing point for water is 32 degree Fahrenheit and boiling point is 212 degree Fahrenheit.” (Science Textbook for Class VIII, p. 135) In the above example, instead of Fahrenheit scale, the first statement should have mentioned Kelvin scale; similarly, the second statement should have mentioned Fahrenheit scale instead of Kelvin scale. This could be a case of a simple misprint; however, it was difficult for the teacher to identify the error on his own until it was discussed with him.

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