Many factors affect how children learn and understand themselves within the world, including ‘everyday history’, mass media, gender traditions, family beliefs, religious instruction, social conventions, teachers’ attitudes and beliefs, among others. Together, these may undermine healthy child development and, by extension, peace and sustainable development. Educators recognize that education has ‘two faces’,1 equally able to foment social division or support social cohesion. This has been especially true of textbooks. Although some textbooks allow students to critically analyse inclusive narratives from multiple perspectives, too many textbooks continue to portray a limited range of children—e.g. more boys than girls, or certain ethnic groups to the exclusion of others -and indirectly and directly promote biased or uncritical thinking. Where textbooks are the only teaching and learning material in the classroom, they become very powerful tools for shaping young minds and hearts.
The content of education texts can foster the spirit of learning to live together through inclusive global, regional and national narratives--for example, highlighting constructive activities undertaken by youth from all sections of society and across national borders. Review committees reflecting representative identities, including racial, ethnic, gender, professional, can provide guidance, identify biased materials and suggest positive elements for inclusion in new or revised texts. Writers of educational materials need to develop content that demonstrates the positive contributions of all members to society, while acknowledging the tensions and challenges diversity poses in society. Male and female youth and adults from diverse and marginalized groups in society can help writing teams to develop stories relevant to a range of perspectives. Textbook illustrators should be skilled at portraying the ethnic diversity of the citizens, male and female, individually and in groups, as well as the nation’s varied physical and social environments.
1 Bush, K. D., & Saltarelli, D. (Eds.). (2000). The two faces of education in ethnic conflict: towards peace-building education for children. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Center.
RECOMMENDATION 5. Revise textbooks and other educational materials to reflect the positive contributions of both dominant and marginalised or minority groups in society, including balanced representation of female and male contributions.