An ice cream seller wearing a cap, his small, mobile unit with an umbrella in mild pink and white, children crowding around to pick up their favourite flavour – the colourful wrapper of the class V English textbook of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) makes you want to pick it up and flip through the pages.
From featuring content that was largely text-heavy, perceived to be serious and sometimes even boring, to that which has more visuals, diagrams and activities, school textbooks seem to have come quite a long way. Be it textbooks published by the NCERT, the State government, or private publishers, an effort to make them more interesting is evident.
In the NCERT reader, everything from the font, tone of the language used to the pastel shades in images come across as a conscious choice by the textbook writers.
“Children, particularly those studying in primary sections, tend to pick up concepts faster when there is a visual representation or activity,” says a teacher involved in designing textbooks as per the Samacheer Kalvi initiative of the School Education Department.
Presentation of content assumed greater importance, as the perception teachers and students have of textbooks, is changing. “We see how children retain concepts for longer when it is presented visually,” she says, recalling a class where the concept ‘My village' was discussed.
The text described the geography of the city, where the different streets were located and how many shops were there.
Since the chapter included building a model of a village, children looked around for various materials, pictures of cattle and cardboard boxes and actually constructed a model of a village.
“Now for every line in the textbook, children have a corresponding image in their mind from the model they made. They are likely to remember the idea for a long time.”
Educationists note that there is no fixed idea of design followed uniformly.
The idea was to include pictorial representations, graphs, maps, activities wherever possible. However, relevance and purpose should always be kept in mind, cautions senior educationist S.S. Rajagopalan.
“Using a picture for the sake of using one does not really serve the purpose. Any visual should induce the child to read more about a concept. There is no point if the child simply looks at the picture in the book and closes it,” he says.
Observing that good use of visuals and images make the textbooks more appealing.
Dr. Rajagopalan says, “Earlier, only textbooks for the primary classes would be more colourful. Now, there is an attempt to make textbooks for all classes more interesting and interactive. In the West, textbook writers also use scanned images or photocopies of newspaper clippings in the textbooks for discussion in class.”
All the same, the appeal of images in textbooks could still vary among children.
While R. Sujatha, now in college, still remembers her class V Tamil lesson on Manu Needi Cholan. “There was an image of his chariot which I used to love,” she says.
However, Bennet Sebastian, a class VII student, says he does not remember visuals from his class VI textbooks. “I prefer plain text. I like to draw my own images for them when I feel like it,” he says.