Back to the USSR

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In Soviet schools, there was only one textbook per subject, which would be in use for decades. Studying from only one textbook per subject was practiced for such a long time that most people who went through it could scarcely imagine doing anything else. Moreover, these people often don’t know that this practice occurred only in the Soviet Union and a few other totalitarian states, while in most countries, schools had more than one textbook per subject, chosen by a school or a teacher. Naturally, students in different schools found themselves learning the same subject from different textbooks. Just imagine – in these countries, neither teachers nor parents would inquire as to why there weren’t identical books in all the schools. Presumably, no one will ask during the presidential elections why there is only one candidate for the post.

A question doubting the necessity of making choices is, in reality, the question of a Soviet citizen.

The collapse of the Soviet Union caused many changes in everyday life, but these changes only affected textbook markets in Georgia somewhat later. In the late 1990s, it was decided to announce a competition for the designing of textbooks (the competition was initiated by the Soros Foundation – the Open Society Institute – in Georgia), but only two textbooks could be recognized as ‘winners,’ even if there were three outstanding textbooks. The competition was held in following years as well.

The main problem was that there was no new curriculum according to which the new textbooks could have been designed. The result was that new textbooks were produced as slightly modernized versions of Soviet texts. It was more of the same and little progress was made towards liberalization.

Substantial change occurred in 2004 when a national curriculum was designed for each class and, in parallel, competitions were announced for textbooks. The first competition was held in 2005 on texts for 7th and 10th forms, and in following years, competitions were held for the 2nd, 8th, and 11th forms as well. The main change in this competitive process was that the number of winners was not restricted. The stamp of approval was conferred onto all good textbooks. Each subject had many alternative texts (some even had as many as 10), which were chosen at the teachers’ discretion. However, because teachers had to invest considerable effort in making a reasonable choice (the teacher was expected to be acquainted with all alternative texts), many teachers expressed concerns. And though the number of teachers who were happy to have choice in the classroom increases every year, the number of unhappy teachers remains larger. Of course, if a teacher is not capable of choosing the most suitable textbook for students, s/he has no business being in the classroom. According to evaluations done by the World Publishers’ Association, the Georgian textbook market, though young, is considered to be one of the most diverse, liberal, and non-corrupt textbook markets in the world.

Unfortunately, after a change in management at the Ministry of Education and Science, a trend began towards restricting this liberal textbook market. It became clear from early statements by the new leadership that they sought to restrict the number of textbooks on the market so to stamp out ‘bad’ texts. The process of conferring stamps to textbooks became stricter, which was part of a larger package of new reforms. As a result, an education ministry official noted in a television interview that “the number of books that received the stamp fell by 40 percent.” An unhappy byproduct of this new reform is that today, some subjects have only one textbook without alternatives.

Naturally, the fight against the liberal textbook market has been prompted by political considerations, as most teachers have expressed unhappiness with the responsibility of having to choose a textbook. Yet many teachers do not need a reason to be unhappy; even if there is only one textbook for every subject, most teachers would continue to be dissatisfied with the text, as they would never care to admit that their poor results are caused by their poor qualifications, and not by the textbook.

In general, modern education is not based on rote memorization as the main goal, but to form particular skills. Studying by different methods requires different resources (like a textbook, scientific books, the internet, etc.). Accordingly, the textbook in education today is only one resource out of many (and not the only one, as it once was), and its role has somewhat lessened over time.

Many people who are not satisfied with the textbooks do not take these issues into consideration. Society (parents and teachers) have different points of view that fuel discontent.

1. Why can’t a single textbook be chosen?

The reason is because the choice should be made by someone (an expert) and opinions of that someone would be subjective and may seem unacceptable to one group or another. It would be better for each teacher to make it themselves. Besides, what is more likely to cause corruption – when a small group of experts chooses for the entire population or when teachers are allowed to make their own choice? It is better if teachers make the decision to encourage diversity of thought.

2. Textbooks are changed too frequently.

In reality, textbooks are changed once every five years, which should only seem frequent to a Soviet mind.

3. Textbooks are too heavy and it is hard for pupils to carry them.

Whoever uses this argument should name a country where textbooks are light, or propose a plan to make textbooks more light.

4. When a pupil changes schools, he has to change his textbooks. How can s/he manage to study in this case?

According to the national curriculum, students should acquire particular skills at the end of each class, which can be achieved by any textbook corresponding to the curriculum. Students should be able to achieve results with any textbook, so changing textbooks shouldn’t make any difference related to results.

5. If teachers face difficulties while choosing between different textbooks, would it be better that this decision is made by someone better qualified?

If teachers can’t make a choice, it doesn’t matter which texts they use to teach because the compliance with the national curriculum means that the results can be achieved. In addition, if some teachers (and not all teachers) do not want to make a choice, what should become of teachers who want to choose?

In general, the position of the new administration in the education ministry to reject the liberal market of textbooks because of complaints from certain teachers is simply not reasonable – the same number of teachers will never be satisfied with any system. The liberal market of textbooks is the only truly approved method in the civilized world. It is better to follow this direction than go back to the USSR.

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