On 17th of April, the Polish Ministry of Education has published the first part of a digital version of the new „Elementarz” – a primer textbook for pupils of the 1st grade of elementary school. The full, printed version will be provided for free to all students in September, at the start of the school year. The textbook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.
The open licensing of the 1st grade textbook program confirms the commitment of the Polish Ministry of Education to support the development of publicly funded Open Educational Resources. It is the second governmental program that provides public funding for an open textbook. In parallel, a set of open core curriculum e-textbooks for K-12 schooling is being developed since 2012, as part of the „Cyfrowa szkoła” (Digital school) program.
The new program is another step in the transformation of the textbook provision model in Poland, which includes a shift from printed to also digital resources; from purely commercial production to a model where textbooks are also produced by public institutions; and from closed to open educational resources.
THe 1st grade textbook has always played a symbolic role, as the first „serious” book that a child going to school for the first time receives. With the free primer textbook, the Ministry wants to address the issue of rising textbook prices (average textbook expenditures by families have risen by almost 50% percent since 2007) as well as end a range of unfair practices by publishers (that forced, for example, parents to purchase new textbooks each year by bundling them into a single volume with exercise books). Together with the new textbook, a legislative reform will introduce regulations that will change the way textbooks are chosen in schools and enforce that textbooks are used for longer than a year.
The Ministry estimates that parents will save 100 million Złoty (approximately 25m Euro) on textbook expenses in the first year, and up to 700 million złoty (approximately 168m Euro) in 2020. The costs of the free textbooks will be covered from budget funds previously reserved for subsidies to textbook purchases for poor families. The Ministry will also subsidise, along the free primer textbook, a range of supplementary materials, including exercise books and a foreign language textbook. In following years, the program will be extended so that it will cover grades from 1 to 9. The program will also be integrated with open e-textbooks from the „Digital school” program.
Hopefully, in the next step we will see commercial publishers of the subsidised textbooks (foreign language textbooks, for instance), release their publications under a free license, following the Siyavula model. As important is the introduction into law of an Open Educational Resources policy, which will confirm current commitments of the Polish government.