In Bangladesh, primary education relies heavily on textbook-based learning. To ensure the curriculum met the expectations of the development partners, Education Development Trust was selected to design the Bangla, English and social studies textbooks.
Since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, government school textbooks have been published and distributed by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) – or its predecessor agency – based in the capital, Dhaka. As with many middle-income nations, learning in school in Bangladesh equates to learning from a single textbook per subject.
In Classes 1 and 2, children are provided with textbooks for four subjects – Bangla, Maths, religious studies and English – while other textbooks are introduced in Class 3. Each textbook is supported by a teacher’s edition, which includes reproductions of the pages of the textbook as well as notes on teaching each lesson.
For the first time, the NCTB sought to find ways of improving its primary school textbooks based on international best practice to support the new primary school curriculum, to be formally rolled out in January 2015.
Education Development Trust (formerly CfBT Education Trust) were contracted on behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Peaks to provide our international expertise in helping to write and publish textbooks in three subject areas: first language literacy (Bangla), English and the combined Bangladesh and Global Studies.
From mid-2013 onwards, our consultants worked alongside NCTB's own teams of curriculum and textbook writers to refine the textbook content and pedagogy itself, to help improve both teaching and learning by improving these crucial textbooks.
Our evidence-informed approach was based on qualitative benchmark research conducted through randomly selected primary schools in Bangladesh, which sought the views of the teachers and children themselves in order to determine which aspects of the former textbooks and teachers' editions were seen as being more or less effective, and why.
At the same time, our consultants carried out a qualitative survey to determine international standards among primary school textbooks in the target subjects and presented the results to NCTB. This survey of international textbooks was a vital step in moving the project forward as it gave NCTB concrete examples of alternative ways of writing and publishing. Our experts also developed short samples of what the new refined textbooks for Bangladesh schools might look like.
In order to manage the work, we subcontracted two Bangladesh NGOs: one with expertise in educational research, the other with experience in educational publishing. Subcontracting to the local NGOs was a significant factor in the successful outcome of the project. Managed by our consultants, the arrangement between international consultants, local consultants and NCTB was effective on several levels: drawing on best international practices and concrete experience in textbook writing and publishing as well as minimising the need for expensive, long-term, in-country international consultancies and instead adopting a light in-country footprint approach.
Over a period of 12 months, our consultants visited the country six times, for a period of one to three weeks. The local NGO partner provided publishing support throughout the entire period, with small teams dedicated to the three subjects.
By the end of April 2014 our international consultants, together with the local NGO, had delivered print-ready files for textbooks and teachers' editions for Classes 1 to 3 in Bangla and English, and Class 3 in Bangladesh and Global Studies. The draft textbooks for Classes 4 and 5 were delivered to NCTB at the end of August 2014. NCTB therefore succeeded in commissioning a new set of teaching and learning materials for the five grades of primary schools in Bangladesh.
Published under the name of Bangladesh's National Curriculum and Textbook Board, the textbooks are the fruit of an authentic partnership between our consultants' international expertise and our local partners' national experience, and should provide a significant improvement in the quality of learning experienced by children educated in Bangladesh state primary schools.