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Some questions on NCERT as a publisher

Open book, hardback books on wooden table. Education background. Back to school. Copy space for text

Open book, hardback books on wooden table. Education background. Back to school. Copy space for text  

The Council is mass-producing and selling textbooks. But a reckless textbook policy will undermine childhood literacy

The National Council for Educational Research and Training, or NCERT, was set up in 1961 as an autonomous organisation to assist and advise the Central and State governments on policies and programmes for qualitative improvement in school education. Its 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 June 6, 1961, and the NCERT was registered as a charitable society under the Societies Act.

Is there a mandate?

Here is a fundamental question: does the NCERT have the mandate to publish textbooks for commercial use and profit from them? How does the term ‘model textbooks’ empower it to mass-produce and monetise them for profit? Current circulars (one finds three of them so far) from the CBSE regarding NCERT books in CBSE schools make you curious about the NCERT’s actions.

At the 102nd meeting of the executive committee of the NCERT held on April 12, 2016, the Union Minister of Human Resources Development wanted an outside audit of the performance of the publication division to be done. Was this audit undertaken, and 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 the NCERT has no mandate to publish textbooks, how is it that the CBSE is going all out to promote them in schools? This leads us to a review of the CBSE and its status.

With regard to the CBSE, one of the functions of the professor and director (academics, research, training and innovation) is to publish textbooks for secondary and senior secondary classes.

The regional directors of the CBSE are responsible for all matters concerning the conduct of the main and compartmental secondary and senior secondary certificate examinations, and their administration, the major areas being pre- and post-examination work, declaration of examination results and related activities. Of late, however, it appears they have chosen to empower themselves to also issue notifications from their desks regarding textbooks. None of these circulars are on the official CBSE website.

If you look further, the CBSE has a number of committees to revise and update curriculum documents, policies relating to academics, training and innovation, and 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, sans due process.

On March 30, 2017, the International Publishers Association warned with reference to Georgia: “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 ... 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 performance and youth literacy, and cause the avoidable loss of thousands of jobs that are generated by pluralistic, competitive publishing markets.”

Examples elsewhere

The Government of India should learn from the experiences of three other nations that 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 jeopardy as most publishers and authors will not risk creating new textbooks. If the practices outlined above are allowed to be adopted without review, the entire book market would be hit. Sadly, the current situation has led to a degree of mistrust and misunderstanding between the Ministry of Human Resources Development and the publishing industry.

Statistics show that over 95 per cent of the books and resources utilised 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, the NCERT, which 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.

sesh@overleaf.co.in

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 11:30:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/some-questions-on-ncert-as-a-publisher/article18310541.ece

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