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Quality of educational materials: How is content checked and how much should textbooks weigh

29 March 2019, 13:08

In the Address “Growing Welfare of Kazakh Citizens: Increase in Incomes and Quality of Life,” the First President – Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev gave a number of instructions, one of which was the improvement of the quality of education.

Director of the Republican Research and Practical Center “Uchebnik” Beibitkul Karimova spoke about the control of the quality of textbooks in Kazakhstan and the work done to improve the content in an exclusive interview with

— Beibitkul Sarsemkhanovna, as far as we know, the expert commission has already completed its work and the results of the examination of textbooks have been reviewed by the republican commission. For the first time in the history of the Republican Commission, a number of textbooks have been returned for pre-examination. Tell us why did it happen and what are the results?

— According to the Rules of Expertise, the selection of textbooks and teaching and methodical complexes recommended for inclusion in the List is made by decision of the Republican Commission of the Ministry of Education. March 2, 2019, a meeting of the Republican Commission for the consideration of textbooks and teaching and methodological complexes for grades 4, 9, 10 was held.

In connection with a disagreement of some members of the Republican Commission with the proposals of the subject commission on basic primary school textbooks, it was decided to send textbooks for the 4th grade "Mathematics," "Learning the World," "Natural Science" for Kazakh and Russian schools and "Kazakh language", “Literature reading” for schools with the Kazakh language of instruction for re-examination of subject commissions. It was not sent for a pre-examination, but for an additional consideration by another commission. This is due to high responsibility and the difficulty of selecting a single basic textbook from a competitive environment.

The second meeting of the Republican Commission was held March 18, at which changes were made to the decisions of the primary subject committee on certain subjects and a final decision was made to include textbooks in the List of Textbooks used in schools of the 2019–2020 school year.

— Tell us about the examination of textbooks and teaching materials. What is it for? What are the stages?

— Examination of textbooks is carried out to assess the quality of newly developed textbooks and teaching materials and their compliance with state educational standards, curricula and other requirements for a modern textbook. The system of evaluation of the quality of textbooks and selection consists of five stages: scientific and pedagogical expertise, approbation, public evaluation, consideration on subject commissions, on the Republican commission. In addition, a discussion of textbooks with teachers in the regions is organized, as well as a public reading with the participation of representatives of the public and the media.

— When assessing the quality, which parameters are given special attention?

— When assessing the quality of textbooks, special attention is paid to the following parameters: compliance with the conceptual provisions of state compulsory education standards, the Model Curriculum; the basic scientific content of the subject; value orientation; representation of the Kazakhstan component; practice orientation; correspondence of the content to the age-related psychological characteristics of students, logical sequence and continuity of content; availability of teaching materials; increasing motivation for learning activities; focus on the development of critical thinking and analytical skills; focus on the development of research skills, skills of independent creative work; focus on the development of language competence and communication; compliance with the rules of writing; illustration quality; compliance with the requirements for the format, design of the cover and title page of the textbook and workbooks; the availability and quality of electronic applications (GR-codes), etc.

— Why don't the experts work together with the authors so that the textbooks can be improved right in the verification process?

— Experts of educational literature work in a confidentially to avoid the conflict of interests. Comments and suggestions of experts are transmitted to the authors without specifying the identity of the expert. At the same time, the discussion of textbooks for grades 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 with the pedagogical community in all regions of the country allowed the authors to promptly take into account the views of teachers and improve the quality of the developed textbooks before introduction into the educational process.

— The textbook should be adequate for the child not only in terms of weight, but also in terms of content. To what extent is this aspect respected in our country?

— At the initiative of the Ministry of Education and Science, restrictions have been placed on the weight of the daily training package. To this end, in September 2018, changes were made to the Sanitary Rules “Sanitary-Epidemiological Requirements for Educational Facilities.” According to the amendments, the weight of the daily training package (textbooks, teaching materials and writing materials) should not exceed:

  • for students in grades 1-3 — 1.5-2 kg;
  • for students in grades 4-5 — 2-2.5 kg;
  • for students in grades 6-7 — 3-3.5 kg;
  • for students of 8-11 (12) grades — 4-4.5 kg.

As a result, textbooks and teaching materials for grades 3, 6, 8, issued in 2018, meet the specified standards.

The content of the textbook is developed in accordance with the standard curriculum. The curriculum development takes into account the age and psychological characteristics of children, the availability of the presentation of educational materials.

— It is no secret that the problem of textbooks has been discussed in Kazakhstan for a long time. Meanwhile, the quality of education largely depends on the quality of textbooks. What is the reason for repeated complaints year after year about the inadequate quality of textbooks?

— The introduction of updated educational content and an activity-based learning model required changes in the structure and content of textbooks. They reduced the amount of theoretical materials intended for learning and memorization. Instead, there are more materials and tasks related to life situations, focused on the practical application of knowledge and problem solving. Visual range have been enhanced: they have a lot of diagrams, models, graphs, tables.

Due to the fact that textbooks of the above model are being developed in our country for the first time, at the beginning of the transitional period there were some difficulties related to the implementation of the new content and methodological approaches in the textbook. Many questions have arisen from the pedagogical community and parents on conceptual changes in the content and methods of instruction.

Taking into account the comments received, adjustments were made to model curricula and textbooks.

Another problem is weak internal publishing expertise of educational literature. In this regard, it is recommended to increase the responsibility of editors of publishers. Improving the quality of textbook development will contribute to the creation of the School of Authors, through the involvement of domestic and foreign scientists, methodologists and experts in the field of textbook science.

The question of textbooks concerns a wide range of people: teachers, pupils and parents. Today's communications and technologies allow us to respond, discuss, criticize or support innovations.

However, one cannot agree with some attempts to exaggerate and summarize the shortcomings, to take phrases out of context and to make unreasonable conclusions. Constructive proposals of teachers in the Russian language for grades 5 and 7 were taken into account and appropriate adjustments were made in the model curricula and, accordingly, in textbooks.

To improve the textbooks further in the transition to the Latin script, a conceptual analysis of the proposals and comments received will be carried out and an optimal schedule will be created for reissuing textbooks with sufficient time for developing and finalizing textbooks.

— How the state participates in solving the problem of the lack of textbooks. Especially in the regions? Do all students have the right to free textbooks or just a certain category? How many textbooks were purchased in the 2018–2019 school year?

— According to the Article 6 Paragraph 3 sub-paragraph 9 of the Law “On Education,” the organization of the purchase and delivery of textbooks to schools falls within the competence of local executive bodies.

In accordance with Article 47 Paragraph 3 sub-paragraph 7 of the Law “On Education": "All students of educational organizations implementing general education curricula of pre-school education, organizations of secondary education, regardless of social status, are provided with free textbooks and educational complexes in the amount predicted by the education authorities for the academic year at the expense of local budgets through their phased annual procurement (including the reserve fund) in accordance with the funding cycle of educational literature."

In the republic as a whole, for the 2018–2019 school year, more than 12 million textbooks were purchased for students in grades 3, 6 and 8, which are switching to updated content. There are 906 thousand students in these grades.

— Recently we heard that the discussion of new textbooks will be broadcast online. Tell me, when and at what resources can the people of Kazakhstan see the meeting of the commissions?

Sessions of the subject and the Republican Commission in 2019 were broadcast online on the national portal of the electronic service This ensured the transparency of the work of the substantive and Republican commissions and their decisions.

On the whole, 588 textbooks and teaching materials for grades 4, 9, 10 for schools with Kazakh and Russian instruction were sent for consideration by the Subject Commissions.

— In general, what part does the public take in the discussion of textbooks?

— In order to take into account the opinions and suggestions of a wide parental and pedagogical community on the quality of textbooks, the Center for Public Evaluation of Textbooks operates on the website of the Center. At the time of the examination, draft textbooks are posted on the portal and interested persons can leave their comments and suggestions aimed at improving their quality and content.

For 2018 and 2019, this portal received more than 5,000 comments, feedback and suggestions. The Center monitored and systematized the comments received. Comments were sent to publishers to take them into account when finalizing textbooks and teaching materials.

To familiarize the pedagogical community with the peculiarities of textbooks of updated content and to take into account the views of teachers when revising textbooks, the Republican Research and Practical Center “Uchebnik” conducted methodological seminars to discuss textbook projects and teaching materials in November 2017 and 2018 in all regions of the republic.

In 2017, textbooks and teaching materials for grades 3, 6, and 8 were presented, and in 2018, textbooks and teaching materials for grades 4, 9, and 10 were presented.

More than 160 authors from 15 publishing houses held presentations of projects of developed textbooks and teaching materials, introduced teachers with the concept and projects of textbooks. The authors also made recommendations on how to use textbooks in the educational process.

For two years, more than 15,000 teachers and methodologists of the republic, teachers of pedagogical universities and a trainer of the National Center for Professional Development “Orleu,” as well as representatives of the parent community participated in the seminar.

The activity and effectiveness of the seminars was ensured by organizing the participants' preliminary acquaintance with the textbook projects posted on the Textbook Center website.

In addition, prior to replication, a public reading of textbooks is carried out on the subject of social perception, involving representatives of the public and the media.

— What about the delivery of textbooks to schools? After all, we know that every year before the beginning of the school year, not all schools of the republic manage to get the textbooks.

— The transportation of educational literature to the regions often takes place with certain difficulties, which is connected: with the duration and complexity of the processes of public procurement and the conclusion of contracts with transport organizations; with unfair fulfillment by suppliers-transport companies of their obligations under the contract (technical problems of transport, delivery of machines without appropriate conditions for storage and transportation of educational publications, refusal of obligations, etc.

The ministry is considering a proposal with the local executive bodies to initiate amendments to the Law on Public Procurement in terms of the acquisition of services for the delivery of textbooks and teaching materials from organizations producing textbooks and teaching materials to educational organizations not on a competitive basis, but from one source.

— Thank you for the interview!

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