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Textbook as technology

I brought back the set of English textbooks used in every public school in Myanmar from grades 1 through 11. It is about the only technology besides (maybe) a whiteboard that is used in most English classes there. Let me describe one.


The fifth grade text is about fifty sheets of B4 recycled paper, slightly thicker than tissue. These are fashioned into 100-page books by folding and stapling (one staple). An article has forecast that these texts will be improved, but that seems not to have happened.

Which brings us back to the point, that the textbook  and should be considered a technology along with the whiteboard as well as the audio or video player, the document and digital projector.

Parents in Myanmar are required the outlay of about $1 per book for each of their children. This sometimes means that some children simply can’t go to school. About 30% never attend, and of the other 70%, only half get beyond elementary school. Even when attending, classes for English (we taught some of these, it is exhausting) exceed 80 students, so most teachers revert to choral drills and translation, along with grammar manipulation. The exams reinforce this style.

In a way, though, the book does act as a focus of study, a guide for activities, that is cheap and accessible. When you think of the tiny amount spent on education there (1.3% of the GDP), I wonder whether a leap over fancy textbooks with pictures and functional communicative activities might be in order. Directly to digital. When it becomes cheap enough.

If you would like to look at the content of the textbooks, I have scanned all of them, available here.

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