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Why NCERT textbooks matter

One major mandate for the National Council for Educational Research and Training is the revision of the national curriculum and its follow-up to develop subject-wise syllabi and textbooks. This it did in 1975, 1988, 2000 and 2005.

Curriculum and syllabi spell out broad guidelines for school education. This is generally adopted or adapted by State and other school systems. The framework is developed as a nationwide exercise involving teachers, academics, and others. The last exercise to develop the National Curriculum Framework-2005 (done in 2005) involved several committees, which met many times to reflect, discuss and arrive at a point to enhance quality. Once textbooks are developed they need approval from the National Monitoring Committee for Textbooks set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

The difference

What makes the NCERT textbook different is the processes through which the pulse of this diverse country, and the needs of rural children, are addressed. Thematic organisation and presentation of topics focus more on the processes of learning than mere outcomes. The tasks and activities are to enable learners to do and discover.

The physical aspect of the book is another merit. NCERT textbooks, printed in colour, are the least-priced today; no textbook up to Class VIII costs beyond Rs. 50. The NCERT works on a no-profit-no-loss basis. About 19 school systems (Boards and SCERTs) from 14 States have adopted or adapted the books. Those who wish to adopt them have only to send a request to the NCERT and a soft copy is sent. The material is press-ready and the States print by acknowledging the NCERT and paying a 5% royalty.

Commercialisation issue

Commercialisation of textbook production is an issue which raises many a question. This needs reflection from the point of view of not only the money parents pay for the textbook, but in terms of quality and the learning experiences which come through the textbook. Almost all the states provide textbooks free to learners up to class VIII. Schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education use books published by private publishers for up to Class VIII. This is where commercialisation begins, for private publishers produce textbooks for all subjects and for areas like General Knowledge, Computer Literacy, Value Education. These are the areas the National Curriculum recommends for integrating into subject areas. This increases the burden on learning-teaching.

Private initiatives

Textbooks produced by private publishers are priced high as compared to NCERT textbooks. The publishing industry is a big-bucks business. Most private publishers commission (a few) authors of their choice to write books, and there is no scope for any discussion on what should go into a book.

This NCERT does not believe one textbook can fit all. The National Curriculum Framework-2005 advocates multiple textbooks. Another question is: “Is the textbook everything?” It is only a launch pad to provide learning experiences. Teachers and learners should move beyond the book to enhance engagement inside and outside classrooms. Teachers, schools, governments, parents and the NCERT should ponder over this.

The author is an Associate Professor in the Department of Education in Languages, NCERT. Views are personal.

rama_meganathan@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 11:52:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/why-ncert-textbooks-matter/article18400872.ece

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