Why textbooks are a crucial part of every child’s learning journey


Faranaaz Veriava, University of Pretoria

South Africa’s education system is widely accepted to be in crisis. An alarming number of its children are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Many schools lack equipment, infrastructure and even basic necessities like furniture.

In this context, could improving access to textbooks make any real difference?

The answer is yes. Textbooks matter. That’s why their absence from one South African province’s classrooms made headlines in 2012. The country’s Department of Basic Education failed to deliver textbooks to learners in the Limpopo province that year.

This led to a court battle between the organisation I work for, Section27 – a public interest law centre focusing on health and education rights – and the government.

The court found in Section27’s favour, with the judge ordering that the department urgently deliver textbooks to Limpopo’s schools. That wasn’t the end of the matter. In 2014 Section27 launched a new application on behalf our clients – an organisation called Basic Education for All and a number of Limpopo schools – because not all the province’s schools had received the textbooks they needed that year.

Thousands of learners in the Limpopo province went without books in 2012, and again in 2014.

In May 2014, judge Neil Tuchten of the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the department had violated children’s rights to a basic education. Tuchten ordered the department to provide a textbook to every learner for every subject by the start of every academic year. The department appealed this ruling, a matter now due before the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Tuchten in his judgment said:

Textbooks have been part of the stock in trade of the educator for centuries. There is something special about a book. It has a very long life, far longer than that of the individual reader. It is a low tech (nology) device. It is accessible to anyone who can read the language in which it has been written. During the hours of daylight it can be read (accessed) without any other supporting technology at all. It needs no maintenance except the occasional strip of adhesive tape.

Some of South Africa’s foremost education researchers agree. They have found a positive correlation between access to textbooks and learners’ results. Here’s why, in a country as unequal as South Africa, textbooks matter so much.

South Africa’s poor educational outcomes

Education researchers are reluctant to pinpoint a single cause for a child’s poor performance at school. But many agree that having access to textbooks is an important contributor to improved performance.

A transnational study involving 15 countries in Africa – among them South Africa, Kenya, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Malawi and Uganda – assigned maths and reading tests to Grade 6 learners (who are on average 12-years-old) and to their teachers.

In an analysis of the results, Stellenbosch University economist Nic Spaull found that 27% of South Africa’s Grade 6 learners were functionally illiterate and 40% functionally innumerate. Figures differed substantially across South Africa’s nine provinces. Limpopo, centre of the textbook crisis and court cases, recorded the lowest reading test results: 49% of the province’s Grade 6 learners were deemed to be functionally illiterate.

Spaull’s research also measured the impact of access to textbooks on educational performance. He found that learners with their own reading textbooks, or who share with not more than one student, “perform significantly better” than those who have to share textbooks with more than one other classmate.

Teacher content knowledge

In the Limpopo textbook case, the Department of Basic Education argued that teachers can fulfil the function of textbooks. But current research suggests otherwise. In many cases, teachers lack content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching.

Data from the pan-African study shows that only 32% of South African teachers had the required levels of content knowledge.

The function of a textbook is essentially to guide the teaching and learning of the curriculum in a particular subject. Against the backdrop of poor teacher context knowledge, textbooks play a fundamental role in supplementing teachers’ knowledge deficits.

Cultural practices

Education researchers have also explored the importance of what’s called “cultural capital”. This relates to family literacy and practices in homes and communities that can help children prepare for school. It also includes exposure and access to books and other printed materials.

But South Africa is not a reading society: the country’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has said that only 14% of South Africans are active book readers and a mere 5% of parents read to their children.

Where learners do not have access to books in their own homes textbooks can potentially remedy this “cultural” deficit.

There is no single “magic bullet” that will solve South Africa’s educational problems. But there is clear evidence that access to textbooks is an important part of the solution. Textbooks do matter. They play a crucial part in overcoming some of the broader structural deficits to teaching and learning.

The Conversation

Faranaaz Veriava, PhD Candidate, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Adorbs new words will only really join the English language when we see them in print


Gillian Rudd, University of Liverpool

Listicle: an article made up of lists. This may be regarded as
Bare lazy as it obviates the need for coherent paragraphs, or as
Douchebaggery, if it’s taken to be

The temptation to create a listicle in response to the latest raft of words to win a place in the Oxford English Dictionary is great, but to be resisted. These latest additions do not simply show the love of creating words – this is something that has always happened in responses to changes in life and attitudes.

Instead, it demonstrates our current ability to promulgate such nonsense words, allowing them to gain sudden currency, perhaps through “trending”, to make use of another relative newcomer to the fold, or “retweeting”. (These are not to be confused with the newcomer “subtweets” which themselves perpetuate another long tradition in English – that of making snide remarks through indirect allusion in a public arena. Alexander Pope would have been a great subtweeter.)

Some of the newly accepted words make one of the main processes of linguistic evolution clear: that of creating a new word by analogy with one already in use. “Binge-watching” is the clearest example. This is the viewing of several episodes or indeed whole series of a televised drama in one sitting. This word is clearly created by analogy with “binge-drinking”, which came to replace the phrase “going on a binge” or “going on a bender” when referring to drinking large amounts of alcohol over a short space of time.

Yes, there’s a difference here – where the earlier two phrases indicated that the occurrence was infrequent, if not actually unusual, “binge-drinking” is habitual, normally taking place at weekends, much as “binge-watching” does for many. I’d like to think that “binge-browsing” might be next, with the specific meaning of spending hours browsing the OED site when one visited to look up just one word. But possibly this is not a habit to encourage, after all, ”YOLO“.

Such changes always provoke reaction. Reliably, this varies from outrage at the abuse of language and ignorance of etymological development that such words betray, to celebration of English as a language flexible enough to admit such vibrant new forms and accommodate the creativity of its users.

But what’s interesting to me, as someone whose most frequent uses of dictionaries are to correct spelling and check historical usage, is the way that great institution, the Oxford English Dictionary, is able to satisfy two roles at once. This is thanks to its dual format – in print and online. It’s the online version that will soon include “listicle” and the rest, with no guarantee that these words will make it into the next print version (assuming there is one, which is what the current distinction between print and online versions implies).

This allows for the OED to record passing uses and trends without compromising its role as final arbitrator on whether or not a word can be said to have entered the English language. This is, after all, a decision which to a large extent depends on proving that word not only gained currency but retained a decent, level of recorded usage over a period of time and, crucially, in print.

And so print retains its sense of permanence in the face of ephemeral but ubiquitous electronic media. Or apparently ephemeral. The recent ruling requiring Google in particular to “remove” records from the internet has reminded us that it is in fact all but impossible to delete anything committed to the electronic ether – however paradoxical that seems. It’s all still out there, it’s just no longer appearing in the search results.

Googling itself is a word now accepted by the online OED, and while at first its currency was an indicator of the success of the company, it’s interesting to speculate on the survival of the word should Google itself go under, or lose its predominant position. Would we then all revert to “web-searching” for background information, or would we google, just as we hoover, forgetful the fact that the common verb once indicated a specific, dominant company?

Only the print version of the OED will tell.

The Conversation

Gillian Rudd, Professor in English Literature, University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The BEBC Review Panel have given their insight into Ready for First, the new third edition Student’s Book

Ready for First Student’s Book third edition helps to prepare young adult students in training for the Cambridge FCE exam. This book is specifically used for the 2015 First(FCE) exam.


Title: Ready for First Third Edition Student’s Book

Author: Roy Norris

Publisher: Macmillan 

Reviewed by: Alex Warren, Academic Director, British Study Centres, Bournemouth        

© Copyright BEBC REVIEW PANEL 2014 – this review may be reproduced but only with this acknowledgement

 Criterion  Grade: 5/4/3/2/1          Comments:  (5 being the highest grade and 1 the lowest)
Originality         4 When a coursebook hits a 3rd edition, you know that it has to be doing something right. This new edition of Ready… has been updated in line with the 2015 revisions of the exam, though in practice these changes have had little impact on the actual content of the exam or FCE coursebooks. As such, this is very much an update rather than a book that has had a radical overhaul. That said, there is plenty of new material spread across the units – indeed the vast majority of the reading texts, audio and Use of English activities are brand new – while many of the writing and vocabulary tasks have been reworked and reinvigorated. It retains all of the features from previous editions yet it does so while simultaneously feeling fresh. Among these are different tip boxes giving advice to the students, as well as the supplementary Ready For… sections presenting each of the papers in detail.

Where the course has been developed is with the addition of an online component, accessed through the Macmillan Practice Online (MPO) portal. Here the students are able to download the audio for the book and complete full online tests. From a teaching point of view, it also contains video of the Speaking exam, which is always a useful teaching tool in preparing the students in what to expect.

Practicality          5 In preparing students for the FCE exam, Ready… leaves no stone unturned. Each of the 14 topic-based units is well organised and deals with a task type from each of the exam papers as well as having a concerted Language Focus sections dealing with the grammar. This is dealt with well, generally integrated with a text or listening script, and with an inductive methodology. This is then put into the context of the exam through appropriate Use of English tasks. Similarly, there is also a concerted vocabulary focus in each unit, be it developing vocabulary connected to the topic of the unit, phrasal verbs or word-building. As such, each unit covers all the skills and a thorough mix of systems, all the while building student confidence. However, the key to any exam based coursebook is practice of exam tasks, on which Ready…does not err, with every unit ending with a two page review including Use of English and Writing tasks.

Whilst it is primarily a coursebook for the classroom, there is no reason why students couldn’t use it for self-study should they need to. The language focus sections and grammar reference give more than enough support and along with the answer key and the online accessible audio, means that it could be used independently of a classroom environment, if so desired.

With all this taken into consideration it would be fair to say that it is a very practical coursebook for students and teachers alike.

Presentation          4 All the while the information is presented in a visually stimulating fashion, with plenty of colour photos and animations to help motivate the more visual students, especially in regards Speaking Parts 2 and 3. The overall design is good – it’s well organised and there is plenty of signposting along the way, ensuring students know what they will be doing and how it relates to the exam. It also makes good use of colour shading, mind maps and boxes to divide the pages up into more manageable bite sized chunks, so the student never feels overwhelmed with the amount of information. In this respect the design is an aid to student learning.
Overall rating                                   4.5        
What outstanding strengths/ weaknesses do you feel this title possesses?

The course is exceptionally thorough, covering every exam paper in real detail as well as covering the necessary grammar and vocabulary in real depth.

On which courses do you envisage being able to use this material?

Due to the wealth of material available it would suit any FCE course, though maybe there’s too much for an intensive 4 week summer course.

© Copyright BEBC REVIEW PANEL 2014 – this review may be reproduced but only with this acknowledgement

An exclusive review on the title ‘In my Opinion’ by Phil Keegan

In My Opinion                                    

Title: In My Opinion

Author: Phil Keegan

Publisher: ELB Publishing

Reviewed by: Alex Warren, Academic Director, British Study Centres, Bournemouth                      

© Copyright BEBC REVIEW PANEL 2014 – this review may be reproduced but only with this acknowledgement

As educators we’re always looking to encourage students to speak as much as possible and so by that virtue always on the lookout for new, quality supplementary speaking and conversation material. With its roots firmly planted in the principles of communicative language teaching and supporting a natural approach, Phil Keegan’s In My Opinion fits the bill admirably well.

Aimed at intermediate and above level students, In My Opinion provides discussion tasks on a wide-range of different topics – 50 in total. These vary from the more common topics such as sports (34), friendship (15), music (23) and work (19) to more abstract topics including discussions on privacy (48), religion (29) and politics (26). There are also more advanced, controversial topics such as drinking and drugs (32, 33) gays and lesbians (16), the death penalty (28) and conspiracy theories (49). Certainly there’s not a lack of topics to discuss. This is a real strength of the book, as in having such breadth it covers the most common themes covered by the majority of coursebooks, thus making it ideal as a supplementary resource.

In regards the activities, they take on two main forms – card based discussion tasks and information gap tasks in the form of different types of questionnaires – making them perfect for group work or pair work.  The questionnaires are mainly the strongly agree/agree/not sure/disagree/disagree strongly type (military service, 21, immigration, 47), though there are some other more Q&A type ones (smoking, 31, Privacy, 48). These work especially well for pair work, whereas the card based activities – students take a card off the top of the pile and discuss the question/talk about the statement – are better suited for group work.  As is always going to be the case, some activities and topics are better than others, but overall the tasks are of a good standard.  More importantly, though, they really do get students actively communicating, discussing and giving their opinions in as natural a way as possible within a classroom environment.

The activities are well supported by some useful teacher’s notes (p.67-87) detailing the procedure, timings as well as things to look out for and potential and language/vocabulary issues. In reality though, these are very much activities which are self-explanatory and which a teacher can just pick up and let loose on their students, safe in the knowledge that they will get students talking. Just what a teacher needs in other words.

Overall rating                    4

What outstanding strengths/ weaknesses do you feel this title possesses?


  • A good range of topics
  • Encourages plenty of speaking with student focussed activities
  • Easy to pick up and go with minimal planning for the teacher


  • Could do with more language input
On which courses do you envisage being able to use this material?

Due to the wide range of topics covered, In My Opinion is suitable supplementary material for a wide range of courses, though it is probably most suited to young adult/adult General English and conversation courses. That said, it could also provide useful language practice (certainly for some of the topics) for Part 1 and Part 3 of the IELTS speaking exam.

© Copyright BEBC REVIEW PANEL 2014 – this review may be reproduced but only with this acknowledgement