“Content is the king and books are here to stay”
opines Atiya Zaidi, Publisher, Ratna Sagar, which is one of the largest and most renowned K-12 publishing houses in India today, which was founded by great visionary Dhanesh Jain in 1982, who was religiously involved in the advancing process of Ratna Sagar till he breathed his last in April 2020. His mission is now being taken forward by the entire team, whose efforts are converged to bring out books for children that will employ the most modern and proven approaches. Atiya Zaidi in conversation with Smita Dwivedi shares the scenario of K-12 publishing during the pandemic.
Almost 40 years since its inception, Ratna Sagar has been identified with high-quality school-level books. The love and acceptance received over the years have encouraged them to think in terms of forward integration and diversifying into the publication of higher academic books. With the launch of its new imprint PRIMUS BOOKS, Ratna Sagar has now ventured into publishing academic reference works and textbooks for professors, lecturers, research scholars, and graduate and postgraduate students.
On asking about the reasons for constantly being a leading K-12 publisher for decades, Atiya Zaidi, Publisher, Ratna Sagar, shared with pride, “We bring out books (especially K-12 Segment) that represent exemplary standards of publishing. Each book embodies the highest level of teaching methodology, designing, presentation, and pedagogical effectiveness. Perhaps, the best illustration of this missionary zeal can be found in the books developed by Ratna Sagar for effective English Language Teaching and also in our flagship series Living Science. Our books are carefully and attractively designed by our experts to make learning an interesting, creative, and fun-filled experience. We also regularly host seminars and workshops for effective education. As part of this programme, we organise workshops on English Teaching, Motivation, Creative Writing & the Art of Storytelling. Participants include school principals, teachers, and educators,” she added.
Tackling education during the pandemic
The whole world is busy battling the Covid-19 virus since March 2020. And we all were hoping for some respite and good times for the new academic year (2021-22), but it again attacked us in a worse way and devastated our education system in many ways. On asking Atiya about her views on the current scenario, she shared, “The revenue model of the K-12 publishing business is much like farming: you till and sow and water throughout the year, but you reap the harvest once every 12 months. And we got impacted by this virus for two years now, exactly at the beginning of new sessions. It is indeed a tough time. We know that it’s a business but we are not keeping profit first. Children, teachers, and other partners, they all need support and we have the expertise, so we are helping in all possible ways.”
“The main spent in books is paper; other costs like editorial, designing and publishing are secondary. Preparation cost is just one-time expense but the paper cost is a recurring thing and is a major concern. If paper prices go up, then we will be compelled to revise our prices a little (maybe around 5-7%),” she says.
During the pandemic, Ratna Sagar has developed an advanced portal as per current requirements. It has animation, activities, games, videos, and simulations that teachers and students can easily access. Also, the homework assignment portal and all teacher training programmes have moved online for making online education easier for everyone.
“We are doing a lot of digital work and creating support material for teachers. This is the time to give back to society. First, we want schools to reopen; right now teachers are overburdened, parents are agonised, and students are stuck up. Keeping the ongoing situation in mind, we have been organising a pan-India series of webinars with the heads of different academic institutions. The series started in May 2020 and has so far brainstormed with thousands of principals, directors, and management committee members across the country. We hope to explore methods of meeting the socio-emotional challenges faced by students and teachers as they handle the inevitable uncertainties of the pandemic,” she added.
Living Science: A living legend
The Living Science series of Ratna Sagar is a huge success and it has been 25 years now and demand is always going up. “The silver jubilee edition of Living Science conforms to the vision of the National Curriculum Framework. This edition is enriched not only with an updated text and new lively and colourful illustrations but also with special inputs like GET SET (lead-in activities) In-text questions; New activities HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) questions; Subject links; Teacher’s notes; SCICTIONARY, a dictionary of scientific terms and much more,” she explained.
In Living Science, every effort has been made to give simple, interesting and joyful experiences for the young minds that will help them learn basic facts and rules about the world around them.
Moving towards a hybrid learning solution
Since the last academic year, students are mostly dependent on online classes and digital learning. Edtech and digital learning solution providers are doing their best to increase revenues. With much of the curriculum going online, Ratna Sagar has also stepped up in the digital medium as well to offer digital learning solutions, hybrid learning, lesson plans, teacher training, and pre-recorded classes.
On asking about the future of education in India, she added, “I feel this is a temporary phase and this too shall pass. I don’t see complete digitalization of education in India, as we are not just about metros and big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, etc. It is a land of many towns, Tehsils, Talukas, and villages. There are so many 100-year-old schools in small towns and cities, which are imparting great education. Still, there are places where the electricity supply is not regular, internet connectivity is poor, and devices are not available. So, I feel it is going to be a mix of both online and onsite learning.”
Knowing the requirements at the grassroots level, Ratna Sagar has also taken initiatives to support the education system. “In small towns, for example, where many teachers have been at sea with new technologies and ways of disseminating knowledge, our team sent soft copies of chapters on a weekly basis. These are special low-resolution versions so that even people with poor connectivity can access them easily. The chapters are accompanied by micro plans for teachers on how to teach remotely. This package includes everything from circle time to group discussions, grammar exercises, homework assignments, and individual projects.”
Balanced coexistence of online & classroom learning
Atiya has no qualms in accepting the fact that education cannot be completely digital or online. According to her, holistic learning and overall development are always better in the classroom environment. “Good schools always value bonding and interaction with the teachers, especially in lower classes. Teaching online is not easy; subjects like Mathematics and analytical learning can be best learned in physical classes. Extracurricular activities like music, drawing, sports, drama, arts, and painting are all important for young developing minds. A teacher interacting with a class of 40 students knows the abilities of every child. Increased screen time is also harmful. Distractions are always there at home. I feel, it’s not going to stay for long but there would be the coexistence of both.”
While she was candid in her opinion about the new learning world, we also asked her about the latest trends of online learning packages, to which she replied, “I feel there is no solution to learning, as education has many dimensions. In India, a very little percentage of students can afford such learning packages. I have seen many big corporate houses entering into educational publishing with so much of investment, but getting little success.”
“Content is the king and books are here to stay. Only the medium will change, depending on whatever is easier and convenient to spend on; it could be online or offline or combination of both,” concludes Atiya.
Being a publisher!
The saying – Live life to the fullest – is quite relevant in the life of Atiya Zaidi. An ideal day in her life begins with Yoga, followed by breakfast, and thereafter a series of routine and on-demand tasks, including office, non-stop working towards designs & artworks, events, webinars, track discussions, and so on. Remarkably, she has not taken a proper holiday from work for 37 years now; however, she loves travelling and goes on a trip to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary every year. She also has her holiday home in Kasauli but she has not travelled to any place post-Covid-19 pandemic situation.