Can a schoolbook cover look more depressing? A miserable boy, asleep at the desk, writing in his copy-book, ink bottle by his side.
I want you to feast your eyes on the the photo above and the eleven other examples from 3rd grade government curricula schoolbooks, which I photographed three years ago (but always kept postponing blogging about).
Millions of students went to their classes this week. They will spend the better part of the year studying from the mandatory government schoolbooks handed out to them. For many kids, these are the only books they have. These books will shape their perceptions of what a book is and will contribute to their intellectual development and aesthetic sense. So what are these books saying to future generations.
Now, I am not an education expert. But I was a kid too some time ago! I have kids who, thankfully, have many other great books at home. And I am a designer and communication professional, and a concerned citizen too.
I will refrain from making comments on the content of the books, other than saying that they seem to be written with a very conservative mindset. There is a lot to be said about gender stereotypes and lack of diversity. Let alone being out of touch with Jordan’s contemporary reality or future aspirations. But I will not elaborate.
I just want to focus on the VISUAL design of these books. Colors. Photos. Layout. Illustrations.
I am honestly horrified every year when I see my sons’ schoolbooks. I mean come on.. We are a country with an impressive IT drive. A level of literacy unrivaled in the Arab region. A relatively good educational tradition. Jordan is also a country that is able to produce publications of the quality of JO, Jordan Business, Al Ghad, Al Sijjil, Living Well and a dozen other glossy titles. Jordanians created Maktoob.com and sold it to Yahoo! We have amazing animators, cartoonists and designers, layouters and photographers.
We have printing presses that print glossy magazines for the European and US markets.
But we give our next generation books that scream “THIRD WORLD” in their faces. I will let the examples speak for themselves with minimum comment.
This morning, we had HM King Abdullah emphasizing the importance of developing curricula and improving education. And we had the Minister of Education respond in agreement.
These books are printed, in color, every year. How hard can it be to redesign them. Not just visually (although visual design and pictures are extremely important in children books), but also restructured and reconsidered from a content point of view.
Mind you, it wasn’t always like that in Jordan. My first or second grade Arabic language books, more than 30 years ago (with Basem and Rabab, for you who are old enough to remember) had some great illustrated stories and rhymes in them. Why are moving backwards?
There are tons of foreign examples to look at and emulate, especially in science and math (if people are too sensitive about “curricula change” in the subjects of religion, history or Arabic). We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Or we can re-invent it but after learning some lessons from around the world and applying some standards to the process.
I will leave you with the “gallery” of selected pages, hoping that every parent and every concerned citizen starts pressing for better books of our kids.
Great quality of illustration, no? The forgot to color the boys hand. The mother is giving us her back.
Nice pink transition and “bevel” effect on the header. Weird looking kids too!
Again, great illustration work. Coloring and shading are so amateurish!
Pink again.. And boring layout.
Colors and transitions used without any good reason. Again.. quality of illustration is “world class”!
What up with the borders? Straight out of the cheap ads in AlWaseet.
Can someone explain t us all these weird shapes and Photoshop effects. Just plain ugly.
Decoration that distracts from the text! And look at the squiggly “highlights” under the titles.
What a friendly teacher. She’s going to start hitting the girls with the stick, raised in her hand. Maybe taking out the eye of one of them.
Quality of illustrations.. NO COMMENT!
Aha.. a scientific diagram. Nice!