Textbooks – a crucial link between education and sustainable development

Photo of the week

Girl in Honduras reads from a textbook. Credit: GPE/Paul Martinez

The student on this photo is studying the human body from a textbook, likely for biology class. Textbooks remain a staple tool in classrooms around the world.

Few instruments are as closely associated with school or learning as the books that often provide the basis for what is taught in a classroom and how. So much so, that access to learning materials is cited as a key strategy to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal for Education.

However, a new GEM Report policy paper, the third in a series published this year on textbooks, reveals that, currently, textbooks run the risk of hindering our progress towards sustainable development because they “fail to deal comprehensively, clearly, and fairly with concepts that are crucial for social cohesion, political stability and the future of the planet.”

The content of learning materials is particularly important to the achievement of target 4.7 of the SDGs:

“By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

The policy paper shows that between 2000 and 2011 only:

  • 30% of textbooks discussed environmental issues as a global problem
  • 9% of textbooks covered rights of people with disabilities
  • 10% of textbooks mentioned conflict prevention or resolution

The paper recommends that all governments should urgently revise the content of their textbooks in line with core values in the Sustainable Development Agenda. It calls for these core values to be built into national guidelines used during textbook review, and taught in workshops for textbook writers and illustrators.

Download the Policy Paper


The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including...

Latest blogs

In Focus: Gender Equality 14-year-old Aichetou is one girl whose family is convinced that an educated girl will become an empowered woman. With this belief at their core, they support and encourage...
GPE analyzed how disability and inclusive education are handled in education sector plans and GPE-funded programs in a new stocktake report.
In Focus: Gender Equality Despite more countries adopting laws against domestic violence and sexual harassment, a new note analyzing global and regional trends shows that a shocking number of women...