If Simon Lewis were Irish Minister of Education, textbooks would be free.
Alas, Lewis is not, and Norma Foley of the Fianna Fáil party is the real minister. And school books are not free.
On the contrary, Lewis is a director of Carlow educating together, a primary school with 400 students in the town of Carlow.
In addition to being a writer and poet, he has a podcast called If I were Minister of Education …
In it, he touched on a range of education-related topics, from the ideal number of flyers per given term (one is his answer), racism, online pay slips and the abolition of private colleges in teacher training.
Lewis has a lot of opinions about textbooks, but he also has data and experience from his 14 years as a school principal at Carlow.
During this period, he has seen a gradual move away from textbooks over the past two decades.
“However, I know that there is still an overdependence on them in many schools, especially the small ones, and we are outliers in the English speaking world to be able to support six major school book publishing companies to less than 4000 schools in the country. “
Busy and busy
There are many reasons why textbooks are still widely used, with tradition being a serious competitor, but also because they are a way to occupy and occupy children, especially in mixed classes.
“In our case, we tried to have as few books as possible,” says Lewis. “
This means that the students in his school have one book per major subject.
“And that’s about it at this point.”
Parents of children who do not attend Carlow Educate Together may well wonder about other books, especially workbooks, which make up their own list of school books.
As Lewis explains, all other material comes from a variety of sources, with the internet and subscription services being particularly helpful, he says.
While this sounds good for parents and guardians who ultimately spend less on books, it places an additional burden on teachers, who must find the teaching materials to complement their lessons.
Lewis has a valid point about this, however, which goes to the heart of what teaching is.
“It adds to their workload, it should,” says Lewis, but knowing what teaching material works and how to find it is part of the teaching job.
“If my mom could do that, then it’s not really teaching. Part of our job is finding resources and figuring out how best to teach our kids.”
As Lewis says, textbooks are just a perspective on how to teach, and they are “rarely in your area with your cohort of children.”
“Most books are written for the benefit of their (authors) rather than the benefit of your lessons,” says Lewis.
However, the Internet and the sheer volume of material online poses an existential question for textbooks, or at least one would think so.
“Textbooks were used for something when information was hard to come by. Now you can locate everything according to the interests of the children and you know your class better, ”says Lewis.
As far as Lewis is concerned, as long as you cover the curriculum, he doesn’t see the point of textbooks, but “especially non-core subjects”.
He might well be an outlier on that point, but as he pointed out, Ireland is an outlier, being able to support six book publishing companies.
So is Lewis’ school an outcast or a challenge for school book publishers?
Lewis laughs, adding that they know the way he does things at his school, but he acknowledges that they also have a job to do.
“In the last decade or so, they’ve started to incorporate more digital components into the programs. The future for them is to have subscription services.
Over time, the trend is towards a model of focusing the book on the teacher rather than the students, with the teacher then responsible for tailoring learning to suit that class.
How does Carlow Educate Together do it?
At Educate Together in Carlow, the school is responsible for purchasing all books and resources for the students.
“We charge a fee for everything at the start of the year; the cost of the book is around € 60- € 65, and that includes copies. “
According to Survey on the cost of education in Zurich 2021 found that in primary school, the highest costs are lunches followed by books at 176 €.
Lewis said they were able to cut costs by buying fewer books in favor of subscriptions to educational resources, which appears to be an ideal model.
“I’d like to think so,” Lewis said, laughing. “Otherwise, we’re in big trouble. “
If Simon Lewis was (really) the Minister of Education
As Lewis pointed out in a podcast devoted to providing free school books, his main point is that “we don’t need textbooks anymore and I am arguing that the government should provide free digital content for all primary schools” .
But, if it were installed tomorrow, “it would ensure that all textbooks are free for families as they should be, and as they are in most English speaking countries, and where primary education is. effectively free “.
One of The main policy proposals of Sinn Fein in the field of education is to make textbooks free, but Lewis thinks their proposal doesn’t really solve the problem.
“It just transfers the money problem to schools that cannot afford the books and just pass the cost on to parents in another way.
“I’m not affiliated with any party, but I think most opposition parties say the same thing until they’re in government. It’s an easy populist thing to say without doing anything meaningful, similar to all the uniform cost debate that we year. “
In all likelihood, uniforms and textbooks will be with us for some time to come, but there are change makers like Principal Lewis ready to try and do things differently.
As schools prepare to reopen all this week, Buzz will report on textbooks, the costs associated with them, how the publishing industry is changing and whether we even need textbooks.