Poland Is Pioneering the World’s First National Open Textbook Program

Access to educational materials varies considerably across the world. Many in low- and middle-income countries do not have textbooks, and the ones that exist are often out of date. Two recent initiatives in Poland, however, are getting free, open textbooks into classrooms—textbooks that are available online and can be easily adapted, translated, and improved upon by teachers and students.

Poland is the first country in the world to support a national open textbook program. Years of efforts by open education advocates prompted the former government to adopt two open textbook initiatives, one specifically for the first three years of school, the other for primary and secondary education across the board.

Open educational resources (OER) like these are teaching and learning materials with open licenses that can be used freely, improved continuously, and repurposed indefinitely. This saves money for both schools and parents, and empowers teachers to adapt textbooks according to their needs. In addition, standard curricula can be enriched with local materials developed within the school community through student projects or parental input, making lessons more relevant and interesting to students.

In 2008, Open Society partnered with the Shuttleworth Foundation and leaders of the OER movement to launch the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which first called for public access to publicly funded educational materials. Other initiatives, such as UNESCO’s 2012 Paris OER Declaration [PDF], reinforced support for the public access strategy.

Following the release of the Cape Town Declaration, Open Society also supported awareness raising, community building, and advocacy in Poland and Brazil. Selection of these pilot countries was driven by interest on the ground, as OER was a fairly new concept. In Poland, our grantees formed the Polish Coalition for Open Education (KOED), now 34 organizations strong. Building on the work of KOED, in 2012 the Polish Council of Ministers approved funding for the Digital Schools’ Pilot Program, which provided schools with computers and information and communication technology resources. It also included the equivalent of US$13 million for the development of an open textbook program for primary and secondary education.

In addition, in 2013 the Ministry of Education launched its own open textbook program for the first three years of school, giving the country two complementary programs. KOED worked closely with the government on developing the textbooks, which use the Creative Commons Attribution License. The textbooks, which can be reused, translated, and adapted, were formally released at the end of last year.  

In Poland, parents have traditionally been responsible for purchasing their children’s textbooks, which can cost as much as €60 to €120 (US$66 to $132) per child annually. These burdensome costs made textbooks a contentious political issue, and were a driving force behind the government’s support for open textbooks, which the Ministry of Education estimates will save parents €24 million (US$26.5 million) in the first year alone, with total annual savings of €168 million by 2020. The costs associated with production of the open textbooks are supported by funds previously spent by the government to subsidize the purchase of textbooks for low-income families.

As the open textbooks were created under pilot programs, policies must be adopted to provide long-term support for these initiatives. “Poland has made important first steps in developing a comprehensive OER policy,” says Alek Tarkowski, one of the founders of KOED and executive director of Centrum Cyfrowe, a Polish organization that works for social change through digital technology. “We are happy to see this policy further developed, with a continuation of the textbook programs and development of further open resources planned until 2020.”

Success in Poland has generated interest in OER from governments across the region. The Open Society Foundations are working to raise awareness of, build communities around, and advocate for OER in the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Centrum Cyfrowe is also organizing an OER policy meeting in Krakow in April to share lessons learned and support OER development throughout the region.

OER is gaining momentum around the world as well. While the Polish open textbook programs are the first national initiatives launched by a government, students in South Africa use open textbooks produced by Siyavula Education, an OER technology company. Siyavula produces open textbooks printed by the South African Ministry of Basic Education. Over 10 million printed books have been distributed to approximately five million learners. In addition, in a recently published report, Open Educational Resources: A Catalyst for Innovation, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concludes that OER not only contains public and private costs of education, but also supports the continuous improvement of educational resources.

Poland has become a leader in the OER movement, something the new government can take pride in. To make these accomplishments their own, the next step will be to adopt policies to support these innovative open textbook programs.

10 Comments

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The road to peace and true equality can only be obtained through literacy and education. This is a marvelous program. My prayers are with you for continued success!

Poland currently has a fascist government...I would not want "adaptable" books, cut to suit the ideology of the day.And who determines the " needs" of the children? What if "teacher" decides the "gypsy" kids do not need to learn this or that? I fear this will only make things worse !

I wonder where did you hear that, maybe from the lefty newspapers or german press? Please don't comment on the situation in Poland if you lack in knowledge.

The devil is in the details here. I don't know how they resolved the controversial issues in Poland, about what the textbooks should contain, that always have bedeviled the tasks of decision-making about which textbooks, and what they should teach. The decision to make textbooks free to students -- unquestionably a laudable one -- appear to sidestep or ignore the underlying contentions about content. The issue is not easily resolved -- for example by promoting the principle of 'just teaching the facts', held by many who wish to strengthen the position of science in education versus the tenets of, say, religion. This position is undermined by the fact that even what science 'knows' is changing every day unlike many religious doctrines which rely on age-old texts as the guarantee of their validity or truth. The only 'solution' I can think of to this dilemma is even more controversial: abandon the notion that we know truth (!@?*, I know, outrageous...), and confine ourselves to teaching the 'facts' of what different people -- philosophers, gurus and preachers, leaders, scientists,artists, inventors, etc. have said about the important issues, and about the ways we might come to know, or arrive at meaningful, responsible solutions. About the thinking disciplines that help us decide truth from falsity, what we ought to do from what we ought not to do. These textbooks would be added to every year with the new contributions and findings, not 're-written' as was the habit in many places to conform to the latest political ideology. And combined with a strategy for 'passing' that does not insist on students' ability to answer questions drawn from a 'core curriculum' (leading to the deplorable practice of 'teaching to the test') but rewards the evidence of knowledge and ability to coherently represent and deal with some percentage of the body of information that is always larger than anybody's ability to master -- a percentage governed by individual students' strengths rather than a collective template. Work to do.

That's true, and that is way at the beginning of the project Polish Coalition for Open Education recommended that open textbooks should not be used as "one for all" solution but move towards repository of open materials for teachers to use and create their own versions of textbooks. On technical side, open textbook project is more like that, though it is still an old idea of textbook not learning materials in the center of learning process. Bigger risk You've mentioned are textbooks being free, not available online as OER's for teachers to choose (this scenario does not monopolize), but distributed to schools (printed for free or bounded with tablets or other devices) which leads to teachers using one textbook/one vision of truth/facts/world, and this can be easily abused by politicians. This happen in another polish project called Our primer (Nasz Elementarz) which is only PDF/print version sent for free to school and this creates an opportunity to push mass scale education into certain paths, fast way. Open textbooks are just one step towards open education, which goal is to strengthen individual abilities to select, evaluate and co-create knowledge. A lot work to do.

It is a major effiort within the WAR ON IGNORANCE I declared when I was 4-yrs.old! Years later, I filmed THE WALLS OF HISTORY & THE BRIDGE OF YOUTH a feature documentary shot in 22 countries. More than ever, the roots of almost all "evil" and the road to successful inovations starts with literacy and CROSS-CULTURAL education through experience. Regretfully, ignorance prevaills even in the most advanced Public & Private Sector upper circles as well, eroding the decision making process towards a just Civilization and Society many a time as a "cancer" all the way afflicting Governments and other leaderships. i.e., Americans, especially, confuse the Social-Democracy label with full Socialism and Communism which is nothig further from the truth. And yet, it is the prove that it works in many countries where the Humanity and logic comes first and the Money second, rather than vice-versa! BRAVO POLAND !!!

I am starting a reading room project and would like to ask for your help in securing ,ore books for our disadvantaged children in South Africa

There is a wonderful project in South Africa called Siyavula (http://www.siyavula.com/) which has developed open textbooks geared towards the South African school system.

I wholeheartedly support Julie's response to iris weber. Anyone who currently makes such a blanket statement on the Polish government needs to 1. get a better understanding of Polish history the last 20 years, 2. look a little closer at the political situation of being a country largely under EU hegemony and 3. revisit the topic "media bias" from their high school lessons, because it seems the revision needs to go that far back

what? "under EU hegemony" - Have you forgotten about the referendum that took place in Poland in 2003? Current Poles elected government in 2015 November and I think this will have much regretted. Also in the context of these programs, recognized as "leftist."

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