Textbook revision, as an international undertaking, dates back to the end of the First World War. The League of Nations recognized that the textbooks used by many former belligerents tended to exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, national prejudices. In 1937, 26 states signed the Declaration Regarding the Teaching of History, which put forward principles on achieving better mutual understanding through the teaching of history. After the Second World War, the founding members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) sought to further the League of Nations’ activities in textbook revision.
In 1946, the first UNESCO General Conference established the Program for the Improvement of Textbooks and Teaching Materials as Aids in Developing International Understanding. However, the program and its subsequent handbook made no mention of the issue of stereotypes in textbooks.
1940 - 2000
Since the 1940s, few countries have undertaken processes of textbook revision. While some of these efforts have been multilateral in nature, these have been confined to Europe. It was not until the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1988, Education for All in 1999, and the Dakar Forum in 2000 that education reform reemerged on the global agenda and was linked to conflict. However, access to education, not textbook revision, remained at the center of discussions.
In 2016, with the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international discourse shifted to one centred on quality education, particularly “inclusive and equitable” education (SDG 4). However, little progress has been made in directly addressing the issue of divisive stereotypes in education, or more specifically in coordinating a global process to reduce such stereotypes in school textbooks. This is in part because of the challenges involved in confronting a society’s own divisive stereotypes, and because the issue of divisive stereotypes is inherently controversial and involves agreement amongst multiple intra- or inter-state parties.