Teachers, bin your textbooks, says US government official

Kaye Wiggins

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A top US government official has called for schools on both sides of the Atlantic to stop using textbooks altogether within the next five years, contradicting UK ministers who want to increase their use.

Richard Culatta, director of educational technology at the US Department of Education, said textbooks were “out of date the second they get printed”, did not engage pupils or allow personalised learning, and encouraged a “linear” form of learning that was not supported by evidence.

His comments come as schools minister Nick Gibb launches a drive to encourage teachers and publishers in the UK to increase the use of textbooks in schools. Mr Gibb said last month that good textbooks provided "a structured, well-honed progression through a subject’s content” and eased teacher workload.

Mr Gibb has previously said he would “like to see all schools, both primary and secondary, using high-quality textbooks in most academic subjects".

But speaking at the Education Reform Summit in London yesterday, Mr Culatta urged Mr Gibb to rethink his approach. “My advice [to him] would be to look carefully at what really high-quality learning materials look like, and just review all of them,” he said.

“If you’re learning science, [you should] engage in play and experience what science is, and that’s easier to do when [you’re] able to engage in simulations and explore, create and design instead of just reading page after page.”

"Throwing money away"

Mr Culatta said that schools paying for textbooks “might as well just take the money and throw it away".

He also criticised the books for being inaccessible to students with visual impairments or who were learning in a second language, adding that they were problematic for teachers because they could not be adapted to meet the needs of the class. “Just because it [the use of textbooks] has been around for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s effective,” he added.

He called for academic materials to be published with an open licence that would allow teachers to adapt and add to them and share them with other teachers.

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said last month that his inspectors would look at whether schools provided "good materials", including textbooks, to students instead of "scrappy worksheets". 

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Kaye Wiggins

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