Recently, there has been a lot of hue and cry among private publishing houses in the business of making textbooks for school children. This is because of a news that supposedly says that the Indian government is banning textbooks from private publishers and making it mandatory for schools to use textbooks from the government-funded publisher (NCERT) only.
I think the issue stems from a clash between two divergent schools of thought revolving around textbooks published by private players:
- PARENTS ARE VICTIMS. Textbooks from private publishers, although not required by law, are being prescribed by schools because of the schools’ business interests. So all schools should adopt only NCERT books, which are cheaper. Most newspapers in India subscribe to this view.
- PRIVATE PUBLISHERS ARE VICTIMS. By bringing in a ban to use textbooks from private publishers, the government is supposedly trying to shut down an entire industry comprising highly-paid authors, content developers, editors, illustrators, graphic designers and allied professionals. Most newspapers in India do not even discuss this as an issue, although an utter fear psychosis prevails within the industry.
But somehow the debates seem to ignore the most important stakeholders—the students using the books. In fact they are the victims.
Regardless of the fact whether the books are published by NCERT or private publishers, textbooks require to maintain certain standards in quality. Here is a non-exhaustive list of quality parameters for textbooks.
- pedagogical requirements
- extent of coverage
- sensitivity to genders, races, faiths, disabilities, common stereotypes and misconceptions
- adherence to syllabus
- visual appeal
- utility in classroom situations
- supplementary audio/video/multimedia material
- production quality
- support system and hand-holding to teachers
- efficient and timely deliver to meet demands
In most cases, barring a few, textbooks from most private publishers score far better on almost all counts. But quality comes with a price. Hence, these textbooks come with much higher price tags. In the absence of any regulation, at times the prices can be just whimsical.
Seemingly, the children seem to be exposed either to the best or the worst depending upon how much their parents are affording. And parents, without the expertise to evaluate books on the required parameters, think that they have every right to choose affordability over quality.
My question is—do we have such a right to decide the children’s future in monetary terms only?
In the interest of the learners, who are the future of the nation, I would rather propose a new idea. In my opinion, both government and private agencies should come together to formulate an unbiased, not-for-profit regulatory authority in the line of IRDA, TRAI, etc. This authority can keep an eye on all the parameters discussed above.
The sooner this happens, the better for the nation.