At the invitation of the Syrian National Centre for Curriculum Development (NCCD) and the Syrian NATCOM, UNESCO Office in Beirut conducted on 10-12 May 2017 a training workshop in Damascus on quality textbook development and implementation. More than 35 Syrian curriculum and textbooks specialists participated in the training with a view to upgrade their skills in designing and implementing quality textbooks for primary and secondary education.
While facing hardships engendered by the protracted Syria crisis, such as the lack of modernized textbook production units, NCCD is yet determined to introduce revised textbooks in schools starting with September 2017. The new textbooks should mainly reflect the NCCD learner-centred approach by promoting interactive teaching and learning, based on relevant content and classroom interaction.
During the training, the role of textbooks in facilitating quality learning has been tackled, especially with a view to exploring new developments of learning resources in the digital era. NCCD shared also some preliminary results of pilot testing the new textbooks in Syrian schools. Different working groups (i.e. Arabic and other languages; Math; Sciences; Social Studies; The Arts; Health and Sports) shared samples of their new textbooks for different grades. The constructive critique of their peers, as well as of the workshop leardership and resource persons, helped the participants agree on a framework for assessing the quality of textbooks against promising practices in Syria, the wider Arab Region and internationally. Such a textbook guide (or quality framework) includes features about the learning philosophy and approach(es); content selection and organization; structural issues (i.e. of the textbook as a whole and of internal chapters/learning units); and the learning and teaching methodologies, including student activities and assessment elements. The textbook quality guide looks also into issues of layout and user-friendliness, while considering equally cost-effectiveness and other important textbook distribution aspects.
By the end of the workshop, participants agreed on some main quality features that all subject areas should take into account in a harmonized way. They have also identified additional needs for capacity development, especially with regard to the areas of editing, layout and printing. The issue of reinvigorating internal and external quality control has been also brought up, through building on past experiences when Syrian textbooks were considered examples of best practices in the Arab Region.
As one of the participants stated, “the Syrian curriculum and textbook specialists are now facing the challenge – and the paradox – of using traditional learning tools, such as textbooks, to instill new learner-centred learning and teaching philosophies and practices. Such challenges are ever more so overwhelming when thinking of the important roles textbooks should also play with regard to securing friendly environments and psychosocial support for both students and teachers.”
As part of its ongoing assistance to Syria, UNESCO Office in Beirut will further collaborate with NCCD in providing meaningful follow up capacity development activities for its staff, especially with regard to preparing the successful gradual implementation of new textbooks starting with the school year 2017-2018.