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A new study by the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report shows secondary school textbooks from the 1950s through 2011 missed or misrepresented key priorities now shown as crucial to achieve sustainable development. With textbooks only revised every 5-10 years, the analysis reveals the need for governments to urgently reassess their textbooks to ensure that they reflect core values for sustainable development, including human rights, gender equality, environmental concern, global citizenship and peace and conflict resolution.

Released around the International Day of Human Rights, the analysis looked at secondary school textbooks in history, civics, social studies and geography. The materials were drawn from the Georg Eckert Institute in Germany, which holds the most extensive collection of textbooks from around the world in these subjects.

Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report UNESCO, said “Textbooks convey the core values and priorities of each society and are used extensively in classrooms around the world to shape what students learn. Our new analysis shows the extent to which most former students now in their 20s were taught from textbooks that had little if anything to say about the core values of sustainable development. Textbook revision is infrequent, and often involves slight revisions, rather than overhauls of content. In addition, governments simply don’t realize just how out of touch their textbooks are. Our research shows that they must take a much closer look at what children and adolescents are being taught.”

The GEM Report calls on governments to urgently review the content of their textbooks to ensure values are in line with the principles in the new UN Sustainable Development Agenda (SDGs). It calls for the values of the SDGs to be built into national guidelines used during textbook review, and taught in workshops for textbook writers and illustrators.