9 myths about textbooks

Instantly obsolete and “incorruptible”, necessary and unnecessary, full of mistakes and indisputable, paper and electronic — all this is said about textbooks. Everybody feels an expert here, like in pedagogics, politics and football. Therefore, they are numerous myths of different veracity concerning educational literature.

Teachers in Russia are strictly limited in their choice of textbooks
СArticles 32 and 55 of the RF Law “On Education” say that “… pedagogical workers have the right to freely choose teaching aids in accordance with the educational programme.” At the same time, only textbooks from the approved federal list are admitted to school. Now it contains 1367 titles. Is it much? Few? Just enough? The question is debatable. It should be added that the teachers of the capital are in a better position than their colleagues in the regions, because almost ten thousand ready-made scenarios of lessons (along with other materials) created by Moscow’s strongest teachers are available to them. These scenarios, since September 2016, replenish the “Moscow Electronic School.”

The longer the federal list is, the more convenient it is for a teacher
A wide choice of literature that has passed a multistage selection at the federal level is the freedom for a teacher, coupled with protection from error. But some representatives of the pedagogical community believe that a more limited list would be more beneficial. For example, in June 2017, at a traditional video conference with Russian citizens, President Vladimir Putin answered the question of the principal of Krasnopolka village school concerning textbooks. The headmaster wondered whether it was possible to reduce the number of educational and teaching materials in the federal list to unify the educational space of the Russian Federation. Having doubted the fact that in Russia there is no united educational space (especially compared to other countries), President has agreed that there is an excessive number of recommended textbooks.
Perhaps the solution to the problem could be an additional “regional list” of educational literature created by Moscow teachers. It would help the teachers of the capital choose textbooks, better “embedded” in the educational space of a particular region or metropolis. In addition, such a list would at least partially resolve the problem of disorientation in “confusion” of federal recommendations.

It is easy for a textbook to get onto a school desk
Educational literature in Russia is undergoing a serious selection. First, the textbook should belong to a completed subject line. That is, a teacher, choosing a book for his fifth grade, assumes that children will finish up to the ninth grade on this line of educational literature. Secondly, the textbook should have both a printed and an electronic version — this is now an indispensable condition. In addition, each textbook undergoes an expertise: scientific, pedagogical and public (cultural and regional). Only after passing all these “cordons” a textbook appears on the federal list, and then — at school. However, there are still “blunders” in educational literature. This fact is known not only to educators, children and parents, but also to visitors of Internet entertainment sites, where scans with errors, amusing or sad, are regularly published.
Soon the examination of textbooks will become more rigid. Olga Vasilieva, Minister of Education and Science of the Russian Federation has recently said, “We have a President’s instruction that very clearly defines the time frame: namely, September 1 (September 1, 2017 — ed.) when we should … give a clear picture of how expertise will be implemented.” Also, the minister has repeatedly said that 1,367 recommended textbooks on the federal list are “monstrously many.”



Tutorials become obsolete very quickly
We live in the era of “information explosion”. The amount of information increases by 30% every year. The world is developing rapidly. In the spring of 2014, after the annexation of the Crimea, all textbooks on national geography and modern history became obsolete in an instance. With the deciphering of the human genome, which became the largest achievement in the field of natural sciences of the 20th century, biology has become more complex and is continuing to do so today.



Talking about physics, there is a well-known statement, “Only a bad physicist claims to have figured out the quantum theory.”
At the same video conference in 2017, President Vladimir Putin spoke sharply about a “current” textbook on economic geography of Russia: “… There is, say to say, data on the development of agriculture. Today, this is the foremost branch of the Russian economy… And in the textbook it goes that the agriculture is degrading. Well, nonsense!”



History knows cases of urgent updating of information in the reference literature. In 1952, the fifth volume of the “Great Soviet Encyclopedia” appeared with an article about the Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR, Lavrenty Beria, and his large portrait. And in 1954, the editorial board of the GSE sent out to all its subscribers a letter with an urgent recommendation “by scissors or a razor” to cut out both the portrait and pages devoted to Lavrenty Beria and instead of them paste the other ones sent in the same letter.
Today it is impossible to imagine schools to receive new pages for old textbooks.



“In the information society, the lifespan of subject knowledge is very short. That is why such attention is given to the meta-subject skills that the school should form. We consider that a printed copy of a textbook in my bookcase, it starts to become obsolete immediately after release, and, perhaps, not yet out of print.”

Victor Malkov, the teacher of history and social studies of school No. 1524


We all notice how often our gadgets get updated from the network. The textbook of the XXI century should be updated regularly and easily.

Each teacher has clear principles according to which he chooses a textbook
Teacher is legally free to choose a textbook within the federal list. Then different factors come into force, more or less random.


“Once I asked my friend, a biology teacher from other school, how many recommended textbooks on her subject are in the federal list. At first she answered that there were two. Then she corrected herself — six. And in the end it turned out to be twelve of them! Then I asked if my colleague had a working matrix that took into account different properties of the textbook — from methodology to polygraphy — to choose the best one, taking into consideration the needs of a particular class. She looked at me with misunderstanding. I think none of the teachers has such a matrix.”

Julia Igumnova, the Russian language teacher at school No. 192

Sometimes teachers in this matter simply drift down the stream, because they do not consider a textbook something very important in the educational process. No doubt that the economy plays its role too.

“It is irrational to buy a new set of textbooks for every teacher on a regular basis, especially since a teacher might leave school in a year or two. Therefore, the choice of textbooks is on pedagogical council, and draft decisions for it are prepared by substantive and meta-sub-faculties.”

Ilya Novokreshchenov, the headmaster of the school No. 2095 “Pokrovsky Quarter”


We can be sure that the textbook that appears on the desk or in a schoolchild’s tablet has passed more than one examination, once it is included in the federal list. However, the fact that a child is learning from this textbook is largely a coincidence of circumstances, and the least important factor is the will of a student and his parents: they do not decide anything.

The textbook is not needed
“A good teacher does not need a textbook.” This is a common maxim, and many experienced teachers confirm this statement. For example, in the early 90s there was no textbook on the geography of Russia for a while, but there was a subject. Students brought flash drives and floppy disks to geography lessons and teachers copied their own notes onto them. Now it is even more convenient to work without a textbook. There is the Internet, there are cloud services; there is an electronic journal and diary where it is convenient to attach a lesson script and all additional materials. Textbook is a kind of “collection of motley chapters” that probably no participant of the educational process any longer needs.
So can one abandon the textbook ultimately? After all, there is an idea that a textbook not only tells about something and trains, but also organizes, educates the labor culture, develops a child’s ability to structure the material. Finally, it lets a student know how much has already been passed from the annual course and how much remains to be done, helps to “survey” the entire forthcoming volume of work. Or is it possible to find a more up-to-date analogue of the whole thing?

A good textbook compensates the teacher’s lack of professionalism
A motivated child can learn a lot from a good textbook, but only if a professional teacher has taught him how to learn.


“It’s not a textbook that teaches a child. A hammer does not build a house. It’s different when a professional uses a good, high-quality, beautiful tool: the work becomes is easier and more effective. Therefore, all professionals tend to have good tools.”

Tatyana Mansurova, the teacher of mathematics at school No. 1540


There is no evidence of the effectiveness of e-education and an electronic textbook


“The paper textbook, in my opinion, will live for a few more years, but until 2025, it will not live for sure. People will continue writing and reading on paper too, it will remain just as part of tradition, but the electronic textbook gives more opportunities for a particular person.”

the Rector of the Higher School of Economics, Yaroslav Kuzminov


Electronic education is not a whim, but a necessity for a teacher. Now the school is a generation of children, which is called digital natives (“born in the digital environment” — ed.). The school is visited by children who, since their early childhood, are familiar with various gadgets and often are better at technology than their parents and (alas) teachers are. Education should reflect this trend, or contact with children will be lost, as well as the is real benefits of studying.


“Electronic textbooks in Russia have been tested for several years. The results are amazing. Testing in 25 regions showed that school performance had increased by 30%.”

Vladislav Popov, the teacher of computer science of school No. 953


The ideal textbook is impossible
Yes (So far)
The authors of a textbook are always aiming at the ideal, albeit difficult to achieve. But at the same time all living things are not perfect, and the textbook of the XXI century, no doubt, should be a living one.


«First of all, a good modern textbook is a kind of basic information core in which students can understand a topic if they missed it. The second component is a set of different levels of tasks that allow a student to master the topic, from elementary to more complex material. The third aspect is that there must be some information for those pupils who comprehend the subject easily and can deal with it at an “advanced” level. Maybe, these tasks will be for project activities or research work, some kind of reference material. It is very important that the textbook helps to connect one discipline with another, forms meta-subject skills and intersubject connections. In general, work on improving of educational literature is always an attempt to catch up with the departing train. Probably, for this reason the ideal textbook does not exist.”

Julia Igumnova, the Russian language teacher at school No. 192


The ideal textbook is a modern one. In this case ‘to be modern’ means not just ‘to exist nowadays’, but to comply with the requirements of the present time. In the current circumstances the ideal textbook can be regarded as an item with the timely updated, relevant content. And, probably, it will be no longer a textbook in its conventional meaning at all.

Victor Malkov

Tatyana Mansurova

Ilya Novokreshchenov

Yaroslav Kuzminov

Vladislav Popov

Julia Igumnova


text: I. Tolstikova   photo: N. Arefieva




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