“Let’s move from rote learning to concept-based learning”

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says Ranjan Kaul, managing director, Oxford University Press India, in conversation with Varsha Verma.

The future is bright for educational publishing and print is just a medium; we are developers and content creators or supporters. People will always want to read. Publishers just need to reinvent themselves, says Ranjan Kaul, managing director, Oxford University Press India (OUP), who has over three decades of publishing experience and has held senior editorial and management positions in leading publishing companies in India. More recently, the Federation of Publishers’ & Booksellers’ Association in India (FPBAI) presented OUP India with the ‘Diamond Award’ in recognition of its distinguished services to the Indian books and publishing industry.

Journey so far…

A well-known name in publishing, Ranjan is a thought leader in several domains such as business strategy and content development. He is often quoted in media on industry-specific issues. A post-graduate in English Literature from the University of Delhi, he also holds an Engineering degree from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur. “After completing my engineering, I did postgraduate studies in Product Design from IIT, Mumbai. Later, I came back to Delhi and did some theatre for a while, before joining McGraw-Hill as a desk editor in 1979. I also did my MA in Literature from the University of Delhi,” he recollects. Ranjan spent 14 years at McGraw-Hill and worked primarily in the professional, reference and higher education segment. After a short stint at AH Wheeler for their publishing programme, Ranjan moved to Sage Publications for six years and was responsible for starting the new imprint – Response Books. Since April 2001, Ranjan has been with OUP and has been responsible for foraying into higher education publishing. Besides his role as the MD at OUP, he writes and paints in his spare time and is the author of Through The Forest, Darkly, a work of fiction published by Hachette.

Publishing industry…
then and now!

On asking about the journey so far, Ranjan replies, “The publishing industry has made steady progress. There is much more talent and many more professionals in this field now. The selling channels have changed and so has the marketing of books. Digital media has helped a lot in publicity and marketing.”

“There were a limited number of trade publishers when I joined the business. But now, there are many players in this field. Self-published authors have created a pressure on trade publishers and the competition is increasing,” he adds as a matter of fact.

On school publishing…

India has long been an important publishing centre for OUP. From its first locally published book in 1912, it has expanded its output to include a wide range of educational and academic resources – from scholarly works and higher education textbooks to school courses, bilingual dictionaries, and digital resources for teaching-learning.

“OUP is the market leader in ELT in K-8 segment, commanding around 24 percent of the total market share in private schools. We are growing our share in subjects like Maths, Science and Computer Science. In-fact, for CBSE Board, our Maths course is the highest selling. We have a reasonably good share in Humanities and Social Science,” he adds.

Even though OUP primarily focuses on CBSE and ICSE Boards, they also offer textbooks for state boards and some states in the North-East… “In the K-5 segment, state boards often prescribe books even with slight variation from the prescribed syllabus, Many state boards therefore prescribe books from OUP as well,” shares Ranjan.

On higher-education publishing…

Talking about higher education books from OUP, Ranjan informed that they started publishing in this segment in 2003 and are catering mainly to subjects like engineering, management, hospitality & hotel management. “We found there are gaps in these disciplines and so started publishing in that and we are proud to say that we are the market leaders in hospitality and hotel management. Oxford also distributes imported medical titles,” he adds.

On asking about their future plans in this segment, he replies, “We are planning to get into undergraduate commerce and science, where teaching is more in English.”

On dictionary publishing…

“It is a known fact that the sale of dictionaries in English language is slowing down in urban areas but it is also a fact that bilingual dictionaries designed for English learners in the tier 2 and tier 3 towns is growing. Despite a global slowdown in the sales of dictionaries, it is infact growing in India, though at a slower pace,” shares Ranjan.

“This is because the English language learning community is growing. There are around 180 million English language people who can write but not speak properly in English and it is this segment we are targeting. We are also publishing bilingual materials for adults who wish to enhance their English language skills,” he explains.

On digital solutions…

OUP India is also gearing up for the digital change. “We already offer Oxford Educate–teaching aids for teachers for interactive teaching and learning and seeing the response, we are also coming up with an Oxford Educate Premium solution for students. The beauty of this product is that it is device-agnostic, which means that students can use it on any device,” he shares.

On learning process…

As a message to the educators across the nation, Ranjan says, “Let us improve the learning outcomes and the general levels of learning.”

“We need to move away from rote learning to a concept-based approach to improve learning outcomes. . Even though formative assessment has been started in schools, but it is still not very successful as teachers do not have adequate tools to assess students properly. In this backdrop, we are coming up with Oxford Achiever – which is a digital solution and it measures the formative assessment skills of a student. We are initially developing it for English and Maths subjects. It has been successfully used in Hong Kong schools and we have developed a customised version for India.

We have already done a pilot test in 10 schools in India and are now planning to launch the English product later this year,” informs Ranjan.

Looking forward…

At OUP India, about 10 percent of our sales revenue comes from dictionary and reference books, 70 percent from school publishing and the balance 20 percent from academic and higher education publishing.

“We are planning to bring out an English-Hindi dictionary app soon and if it is successful, we may come up with apps in other languages as well,” shares Ranjan. “We are also looking at e-books in higher education, which may also have enhancements and interactivities. But OUP will continue to publish new courses in print, apart from offering integrated solutions to schools, encompassing print, digital, assessments, reports, teaching aids and teacher training,” concludes Ranjan optimistically.

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