Open Text Books
11 July, 2013
The Ministry of Education is writing a new plan that will step back from its work and look at goals and what it wants to do. Often these documents are very vague and are simply a list of nice abstractions with not much thought into how these wishes interconnect or which is more important than the others. It would be great if there were some specifics on what education should look like in six or seven years. How many schools,
students and teachers, studying what, that sort of thing; a specific direction.
But the more specific, the more controversial it will be. This is an extremely broad and politically contentious topic, if it is good, it will cover pre-school, universities, expectations of students, teacher training and salaries, investment, curriculum, languages, everything. And in the long term there nothing more important to Georgia than education.

But there is one very easy improvement that will make things better, reduce corruption and save money. In most transitional countries school text books are a problem and Georgia is no exception. There are many problems with Georgia’s text books: 1) they are not very high quality and have many mistakes, 2) they are expensive, 3) the distribution is disorganized, 4) there is a great corruption risk because the Ministry controls everything and each text book is a monopoly for the publisher, 4) the pace of improvement is very slow.

All of these problems derive directly from how text books are created. They are each a contract given by the Ministry of Education to a specific author and/or publisher. The authors and publishers then creates the books but retain the copyright. This means that once the book is written it stays the same until a second edition is printed but that usually takes many years, if it happens at all. Because the publisher is the printer, they want to control the printing to keep the prices up and almost none of the books are available in a digital format. That is why they are so expensive and why the risk of corruption is so high.

A better way would be for the Ministry to say that all new text books must be open source. There is a new legal form that people who create things can use called Creative Commons (CC for short), it means that whoever writes, or designed or photographs, or paints something, there is a specific and recognized legal process that allows them to say that anybody can use this product as long as they give credit, they can change and improve it, but that nobody in the future can copyright it or make money from it. Then the Ministry can say that all new text books must be Creative Commons licensed and on line so that people can always get them there for free, to read on line or print on printers. Printing houses can get the books for free, so their only costs are to physically print the books and they will compete on price, because the more they charge for books the more likely other printers are to under-cut their prices. So the prices will drop dramatically.

The pace of improvement would accelerate. All the new books would be on line, in one form so that those in school could read them on line, print put them on digital readers, but there would of course also be versions to be discussed and to copy edit. This would be fantastic for students to see people in the society debating the very text books they are using for school. Text books are very important. If you want to understand how a nation sees itself, read its own history books.
This would also be an easy way to very much improve the quality of an important responsibility of the state, and at the same time, save money while being much more transparent. There are few policies so easy to improve. And few that have been such a challenge for so long as text book.