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Professor Lesko on Textbook K-6 Preparation in Afghanistan

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Nancy Lesko

Nancy Lesko

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Nancy Lesko, Associate Professor of Education, who recently spent nearly three weeks in Kabul working with the Afghan Ministry of Education and UNICEF on textbook preparation and teacher education, as part of the new TC Afghan Project, wrote the following in a progress report that has been edited by Inside TC:

We are prioritizing the following textbooks for completion by the end of December 2003: Grade 1 Math, Dari, Pashto, and Life Skills textbooks for students and Grade 4 English textbook, workbook, and teacher's guide. While departments are working on a range of books from Grades 1-6, we have prioritized the five textbooks (above). The deadline for the completion of these textbooks is the end of December, 2003. Before that time, local and international review and pilot testing of materials are to occur.

We began our work during the period September 22-October 11 with an initial meeting with each department involved in curriculum and textbook development in Grades 1-6 (with the exception of Islamic Studies and Life Skills). In this initial meeting we discussed what the department had accomplished in developing syllabi and textbooks, how they work in the department (for example, as a team or as individuals), and what they need in order to keep the work moving forward. After this initial meeting, we tried to meet on a regular basis with each department to comment on their syllabi and textbook drafts and to work out difficulties.

Across the different departments, our meetings have emphasized several themes and practices in writing textbooks:

1.  The need to have a syllabus for each subject and grade as the foundation for textbook development

2.  The need to develop a lesson format that is followed throughout the textbook

3.  The need to make the texts visually interesting for students through use of good design, pictures, attractive page layout, and color, if possible

4.  The need to make the texts academically interesting and effective for students through the development of numerous and varied student activities

5.  The need to help teachers understand what is to be taught by stating each lesson's objectives clearly, by offering concrete suggestions for teaching strategies, and by using a standard lesson format that is easy to comprehend and follow

6.  The need to include regular review lessons and to help teachers to design monthly assessments

Dari and Pashto. After an initial meeting with the Dari and Pashto teams, we found that their draft books were very different in format and content. Mr. Wahidi desired that these two teams work closely together and, therefore, we started meeting with the Grade 1 textbook authors from the Dari and Pashto departments. This has proved to be an effective way to work. We have commented on their draft textbooks and emphasized several dimensions:

  • the need to create one textbook for the teaching of reading and writing in both languages
  • the need to include a wider variety of student activities
  • the need to help teachers by stating the objective of each lesson and suggesting teaching strategies
  • the need to emphasize reading by the inclusion of stories and comprehension questions for students about the stories (before students can read independently, teachers will read the stories to the class)
  • the need to find or create pictures to support the lessons' objectives

Math. We met twice with the math department. The second time we discussed the initial lessons in the Grade 1 textbook. Our overall impression was that the textbook was "difficult" for teachers and students. We suggested several areas of revisions:

  • provide an explicit objective for each lesson
  • provide explicit directions for teachers on how to teach the lesson
  • develop multiple kinds of student activities, some of which students can do with other students, some of which will be teacher-directed
  • look for more interesting pictures
  • develop an overall consistent format to the lesson pages that seeks to enhance student interest and comprehension of the topic
  • develop activities that help students apply mathematics concepts and knowledge to real life situations

One member of the math department educated in Iran has expertise in computers, page layout, and graphic design. He could lead the work of textbook design in math and perhaps in other departments as well.

Social Studies. We met three times with the social studies department. The first meeting focused on the syllabi for Grades 4-6. Our opinion was that there was too great a focus on knowledge about Afghanistan across these three grades. We believe that Grade 4 should focus on Afghanistan and Grade 5 can broaden out to the Central Asia Region and Grade 6 can focus on regions of the world. Our second meeting focused on the revised syllabus for Grade 4; we thought it was much improved but that it needed an equal balance on rural and urban Afghanistan. Our last meeting focused on the discussion of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that the Grade 4 text would develop, with a lot of discussion around academic and social skills. Their next step was to develop some initial lessons on families for the Grade 4 text.

A stumbling block for this department as for every other one is the lack of access to resources to design textbook lessons, that is, computers, computer graphics software, a knowledgeable technical assistant for textbook design, a digital camera, and a scanner/printer. We assured the members of this department, as we have each department, that these support materials would be provided soon.

The Life Skills team is also part of the social studies department. Because Seddiq Weera is an expert in this subject area, we postponed our review of their draft textbook until his arrival.

Science. We met once with the science department. It was clear from this meeting that they are working well in developing a Grade 4 textbook. The department had developed a strongly student-centered approach in which students were asked to "do science," that is, investigate their world as a scientist does.

English. Our work with the English department has been extensive in part because the new Curriculum Framework mandates the beginning of English in Grade 4 (rather than Grade 7). We revised the basic lesson format to be shorter and to emphasize several components: an opening situational dialogue (supported by a picture for example of a teacher greeting students); student-to-student speaking practice, written student activities, and writing practice.

The English department has developed a solid and interesting format. A very time-consuming task has been the finding of pictures and photographs that communicate clearly for Afghan students. One large task now is to carry this out through the rest of the book. The English department is developing a Grade 4 textbook, a student workbook, and a teacher's guide.

Art. We met once with the Art department. They reported that their textbook development is quite far along, but they did not have any of the materials to show us. They are developing teachers' guides for Drawing for Grades 1-3 and 3-6. They are developing students' textbooks for Calligraphy for Grades 1-6.

Syllabi development. Existing subject syllabi received comments and suggestions for revision at the July 2003 Intercontinental Workshop. We have heard that these syllabi have now been finalized. We think that some additional steps are needed on syllabi development: a standard format should be developed and a translated version of the syllabi must be edited for correct language use and meaning. Finally, the translated syllabi will be posted on the UNICEF website for use by international consultants.

From our discussions with departments, we wonder how much the syllabi are being used as the basis for textbook development. Finally, we recommend that finalized and officially approved syllabi be put on file in a central location. Collaboration with Teacher Training Department In our meeting with Mr. Hayat, Head of Teacher Training Department, and Gul Wahidi, UNICEF, we discussed numerous issues that the new Curriculum Framework raises for teacher training. First, since English is now to be introduced in Grade 4, will teachers be sufficiently trained in English to implement this new policy nationwide? The implementation of the Grade 4 English curriculum will be especially difficult in rural Afghanistan. Second, teachers are required to test students six times per year. How can the textbooks help teachers with these assessments (for example, textbooks should include review lessons)?

Our discussion with people from Teacher Training was very productive in that we began to directly connect curriculum issues and innovations with teacher training. Further collaboration between the Departments of Compilation and Translation and Teacher Training will be beneficial to the smooth implementation of educational change in Afghanistan.

Conclusions and Recommendations

1.  We believe that this process of working on a daily basis with each department on the details of their lessons and chapters is a productive and satisfying one.

2.  There is progress in each department toward the production of quality textbooks.

3.  There are similar areas of difficulty for most of the departments:

  •  The need to have a syllabus as the foundation for textbook development-that is, the need to have an overarching concept for the textbook
  • The need to develop a lesson format that is followed throughout the text
  • The need to make the texts visually interesting for students through use of good design, pictures, attractive page layout, and color, if possible
  • The need to make the texts academically interesting and effective for students through the development of numerous and varied student activities
  • The need to help teachers understand what is to be taught by stating each lesson's objectives clearly, by offering concrete suggestions for teaching strategies, and by using a standard lesson format that is easy to comprehend and follow
  • The need to include regular review lessons and to help teachers to design monthly assessments 4.

4.  The processes of local and international review of textbooks and pilot testing should be standardized for all Grade 1-6 textbooks.

We strongly recommend:

1.  The continuation of the close work of curriculum consultants and department members.

2.  The hiring of at least one computer specialist in textbook design, graphics, and page layout.

3.  The purchase of computers with appropriate software for word-processing, graphics work, and page layout.

4.   The installation of one high-speed Internet connection that will be available for departments to download images.

5.  The consistent, close collaboration between the Departments of Compilation and Translation and Teacher Training over curriculum and textbook development and implementation.

6.  The processes of local and international review of textbooks and pilot testing should be standardized for all Grade 1-6 textbooks. These processes need to be developed to be sustainable and manageable. The Teacher Training Department has a significant role to play in developing and implementing the processes of review.previous page