Textbook scenario at school level

Shihab Sarkar | Thursday, 22 December 2016

Like in the last few years, textbooks are set to be ready by this December for distributing those among the school students. The government conducts the programme, in which students receive the new books for free. The chief goal of this book-distribution is to make education at primary and secondary levels more effective. It also helps the books' availability easier --- especially to those living in the remote areas of the country. As it befits child and teenage students, the event marks a festive look. The print and electronic media remain awash with scores of visuals showing jubilant students receive their bundles of new books from school teachers. However, thanks to the softening of the relevant prohibitions, the guidebook publishers' troubling emergence this year may detract much from the usual scenario filled with unblemished joy.
The immense delight on getting brand new books at the very start of their new classes is not unique to the present times. It was also there in the past. The difference is in the past these books had to be bought by the parents from the market. Those lacking the ability due to financial constraints used to 'arrange' those for their children. They would normally collect those from the students promoted to higher grades, or buy those from old-book shops. The government programme to ensure new textbooks for every school student is undoubtedly a laudable one. After experiencing a number of hiccups initially, the free book distribution programme has at long last attained an institutional shape. Its apparent success has been welcomed spontaneously. However, the story does not end here.
In the years since its start in 2010, lots of irregularities have stained the programme run by the Ministry of Education. Most of them were detected in the distribution system. Allegations of outlying schools not receiving the free textbooks have been many. Besides, publishers responsible for the books' printing were found using low-quality paper for the books; the binding of some books was so weak that pages would come off while turning them. In the initial years, artificial crisis of these books led to chaotic situations. It invariably prompted the panicky parents to buy the books from 'black market' at exorbitant prices. Thanks to the intervention of the authorities concerned, the artificial dearth could be coped with noticeable effectiveness.
That the free distribution of textbooks has proved beneficial for students is beyond doubt. However, this charitable programme on the part of the government does not make up the whole episode. Of late, educationists and researchers have been found engaged in in-depth discussions on the standard of the country's school education. In these discourses, most of the experts find the school education scenario disappointing. The problem begins with the textbooks' content limitations, teachers' inefficiency, etc., and end up in the damages inflicted on the students by guidebooks or notebooks.
The publication of guidebooks was discouraged a couple of years ago with the enforcement of restrictive instructions by the government. The guidebooks were out of market for a considerable period of time, although clandestine sales allegedly continued. Recently, with some relaxations of these rules, the guidebook publishers are poised to stage a comeback. As  January 01, the date for starting distribution of the free textbooks, draws near, guidebook publishers are found spending hectic times taking preparations to market their 'products'. The teachers at the so-called coaching centres highly depend on these books. Education experts have been highlighting the poor editing of the school textbooks since long. Along with it, they have been telling the nation how the students are made to become dependent on the guidebooks. The extent of damages wrought by the 'made easy' formulas on primary and secondary-level students could be gauged by some unpalatable truths. These days, even lower-grade primary students are found engrossed in guidebooks with their house tutors or school teachers recommending those; many secondary-level students enter their new syllabuses straight through the guidebooks. They do not even bother to leaf through the textbooks.
Scores of seminars, symposiums, roundtable conferences on school education are periodically organised by the government authorities and private entities. They are aimed at eliciting expert opinions on the remodelling of textbooks.  Every such session reaches the inevitable conclusion: the textbooks do not pass muster. Experts are unanimous in their observations that the compilation of writings in the books leaves out some practical considerations. Some find the editing poor and lacking in sincerity --- thus amateurish. Involvement in textbooks as authors and editors calls for a thorough understanding of the students' psychology. Likewise, the textbook people ought to be aware of the demands of the times. All this is appallingly absent in the whole process centring the textbooks' publication.
Of late, a number of educationists have found the contents in the textbooks to be too brief. In this regard they point out the essays dealing with the country's history, especially the Liberation War, the topics of environment and climate, etc. Information given in the pieces included in the books is so scant that the teachers find themselves in an awkward situation in the classroom. The problem lies in the fact that most of them lack the sufficient knowledge required for explaining the subjects to the students. The students also find themselves in a quandary. Banking on the sketchy teaching in the classroom, they cannot write answers in the exam scripts in detail. Easy solutions wait in the wings. Enter the guidebooks, written mostly by 'expert headmasters'. These books are, in fact, written by senior teachers and writers or brilliant students under different pseudonyms. What the original textbooks lack are amply found in the guidebooks, and also in the specially made answer sheets supplied by the mushrooming coaching centres.
 Barring a few studying in highly reputed or better institutions, school students in general rely solely on the 'made easy' publications for taking important public examinations. The most important and the oldest of these examinations is the one of secondary school certificate (SSC). Lately, the Junior School Certificate (JSC) and the Primary School Certificate (PSC) examinations have been added to the list. Thanks to the continued government emphasis being attached to these two public exams, they have already begun earning respectability of sorts in society. Slated for taking after the completion of Class V and Class VIII, the exams' certificates are said to be of significant value in the job market. Thus passing these two examinations carries considerable amount of value for the students in the rural areas or those in the lower rungs in the social ladder.
When it comes to school education, the guidebook publishers and the coaching centres in the bygone days used to mainly target the SSC exams. Post-Class V and post-Class VIII stipend examinations would also arouse commercial interest. Nowadays, the guidebook publishers keep a considerable amount of resources and investment aside for JSC and PSC examinations.
Various studies blame the lackadaisically compiled and edited textbooks for increase in the rise of guidebook publishers, and the emergence of coaching centres. These commercially driven ventures could be checked to a great extent by the 'interactive teaching method' included in the Education Policy 2010. The method is scientific and pragmatic and well thought-out. It provides scopes for post-class discussions between teachers and students. On being put to effect, it could address the textbooks' limitations related to the abridged size of their essays.  
[email protected]