Stepping ahead of the B-word

Time to move forward in life with `Step Ahead'.

Time to move forward in life with `Step Ahead'.  

IF YOU have ever lifted an average Indian child's schoolbag, you would be rather ambitious to expect the little scholars to react with delighted surprise at the news that yet another set of textbooks has been launched - and that too, in subjects with a history of unintended injury caused by lacklustre teachers - Maths, Environmental Science and English.

And so perhaps it was only fitting, as Macmillan India Limited unveiled their new "Step Ahead" series in New Delhi recently - and officials talked fondly about the event being like the birth of a baby, the joy of being told how much the children had enjoyed the new book, the pleasures of teaching - that one of the student representatives in the audience threw a mild sprinkling of cold water on the proceedings by summing up in one word the feeling of a school child on seeing a textbook: "Boring."

The remark was indulgently received, though many in the gathering agreed that children these days use the B-word rather casually. In any case the event was focussed on promoting the new textbook. But there were a few heartening pointers that emerged as the eminent panellists - including Professor Deoki Nandan, formerly of National Council for Educational Research and Training; Sadhana Parashar, Assistant Education Officer, English Language Teaching; Salwan Public School's Headmistress Homi Astavans; Mata Jai Kaur School's Vice Principal Manleen Kaur; and Macmillan's Uma Mani - discussed "The Role of Textbooks in Today's Classroom", focussing on the Indian context. From these signs, there seemed hope that some common sense is finally hatching in the corridors lined with money and muscle where this heterogeneous nation's educational policies are made or marred.

One such highlight was when Deoki Nandan, outlining the essential features of a Maths textbook, clarified "normal language" versus "English language", pointing out that to teach children the mathematical fact that A plus B equals B plus A, it is not necessary to make them learn intimidating phrases such as "associative property" and "computative property." Uma Mani, who stressed the importance of realising that most educators in India approach English as a second or third language, agreed that Macmillan's attempt had been to shun this kind of jargon.

Sadhana Parashar's vital point that a bad curriculum transacted well is better than a good curriculum transacted badly was bolstered by her request to the publishers "along with these exciting books" to also arrange "sensitisation programmes for the teachers."

The audience - consisting mostly of teachers - volunteered observations such as the acknowledgement that a textbook is a mere tool and a good teacher should move away from the text, and the need for more autonomy for teachers, who are often under pressure from a management demanding time-bound, uniform results from a heterogeneous group.

Stating "there is no substitute for a good teacher, but there is also no substitute for a good text" Professor Mohan of DAV also suggested good classroom practices like graded exercises to suit the spectrum of slow learners to high achievers and enable each student to savour a sense of accomplishment and joy of learning.

The publishers assert that the series "does away with the need for notebooks," thus lessening the children's physical burden. And the mental burden? We can only hope for the best.

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