Evidence of the value of textbooks

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Helpdesk Query:

What is the evidence of the value of primary and secondary students having access to a range of quality textbooks in low-resource, low-capacity situations?  For example, is there evidence that textbooks can help to improve student and teacher attendance and student learning outcomes?  What are the complementary actions that can help to maximise the value of providing textbooks where none or few exist at present?


Evidence for this report is split in to two sections depending on whether it was published before or after 2005. The more recent evidence is less positive than earlier research. Some findings from included studies:

  • No average impact of textbooks on student scores, although a positive impact for students at the top of the socioeconomic distribution is found.
  • Textbooks increased the scores of students with high pre-test scores but had little effect on other students.
  • Textbook availability and school resources appear to be capable of countering socio-economic disadvantage, particularly in low-income settings.

Glewwe et al. (2011) review the literature from 1990 to 2010. Including all studies they find the evidence strongly suggests that textbooks and similar materials increase student learning. When the review is restricted to higher quality studies only, the evidence that textbooks and similar materials increase student learning is quite weak.

The report also provides some notes on making textbooks effective and a textbook rental scheme for making the most of textbooks where none or few exist. Further evidence in this report suggests there are benefits to textbook sharing.

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