“Reckless textbook policy will undermine childhood literacy”


opines Sesh Seshadri, publishing consultant on whether it should be mandatory to use NCERT textbooks in all CBSE schools.

I begin this article by revisiting the status of the NCERT and its formation.

The current circulars (I’ve read three so far) from the regional offices of the CBSE regarding NCERT books in CBSE schools make us curious about the NCERT.

The NCERT was set up in 1961 as an autonomous organization to assist and advise the central and state governments on policies and programmes for qualitative improvement in school education. The NCERT remit includes research in areas related to school education and the publication of model textbooks (the operative word being ‘model’). A memorandum of association was signed on 6th June 1961, and the NCERT was registered as a charitable society under the Societies’ Act.

As a layperson, I would like to raise a fundamental question: does the NCERT by its own admission have the mandate to publish textbooks for commercial use and also make profit from them? How does the term ‘model textbooks’ empower the NCERT to mass-produce and monetize for profit?

At the 102nd Meeting of the Executive committee of the NCERT, held on 12th April 2016, the then Hon’ble HRM wanted an outside audit of the performance of the Publication Division to be conducted. Was this audit undertaken and, if so, what was its outcome? As a taxpayer, could I request the NCERT to publish this report and disclose the name of the audit firm?

If we believe that the NCERT has no mandate to publish the textbooks, how is it that the CBSE is going all out to promote them in schools? This leads us to review CBSE and its status.

With regard to the CBSE, one of the functions of the professor & director (academics, research, training and innovation) is to publish textbooks for Secondary and Senior Secondary classes. (Please note that this does not include books for primary classes. i.e., up to Class 8.)

The regional directors of the CBSE are responsible for all matters concerning conduct of main and compartmental Secondary and Senior Secondary certificate examinations, and their administration, major areas being pre- and post-examination work, declaration of examination results and other related activities. Of late, however, it appears that they have chosen to empower themselves to also issue notifications from their desks regarding textbooks.

I observe that none of these circulars have been uploaded on the official CBSE website, unless my navigation knowledge does not take me to that page.

If you look further, the CBSE has a number of committees for revision and updating of curriculum documents, policies relating to academics, training and innovation, and many related matters. But there is no committee that is empowered to recommend textbooks, as outlined on the CBSE website. Matters of such fundamental importance as textbooks are being dealt with by individuals and not by due process.

On 30th March 2017, International Publishers Association in its press release

with reference to the country of Georgia has warned: “Childhood literacy in Georgia will be a primary casualty of a well-meaning but destructive schoolbook law that has handed the government control of all textbooks. It has further stated that this policy will set the country’s educational publishing industry on a heading to annihilation. At the IPA we have seen it happen in other countries – such as Hungary and Poland – that state monopolies in textbook publishing always fail to deliver the quality resources that teachers, students and their parents deserve. State publishing monopolies capsize successful business models, cause long-term damage to educational performances and youth literacy, and cause the avoidable losses of thousands of the jobs that are generated by pluralistic, competitive publishing markets.”

I request the Government of India to learn from the experiences of three other nations which have gone through this experiment and failed. This government policy will have a deeply negative impact on the educational system. The literacy of our youth is in real danger because most publishers and authors will not risk creating new textbooks any more if their very prescription is in question. If the practices outlined above are allowed to be adopted without review, the whole book market would be hit by serious financial problems, and many hardworking, good people who have contributed to India’s literacy will stand to lose their jobs. Sadly, the current situation has led to a degree of mistrust and misunderstanding between the Ministry of Human Resources Development and the publishing industry.

I will end by requesting the Hon’ble Prime Minister to note that statistics show that over 95 per cent of the books and resources utilized in Indian classrooms are made in India. The Indian publishing industry has been proud to be at the forefront of the Make in India programme, and would like to continue to be able to do so.

However, the manner in which the CBSE and the NCERT are interpreting the Make in India policy implies that textbooks can only be produced by one entity, i.e., the NCERT, which by its own definition was never a publisher to begin with. To restrict education and publishing in this manner would be dangerous and limiting to the proper growth and development of our young people, and I request the Hon’ble Prime Minister to look into this matter and intervene on their behalf.

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