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My take on textbook issue

This visibility of the text tends to smoke the curriculum in the school, and masquerades as curriculum, becoming, in the end, de facto curriculum
12:58 AM Jan 19, 2024 IST | FAZL ILAHI
my take on textbook issue
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The issue of textbooks has long been debated in education circles all over the world. It is not a new thing. Therefore, the discussion over it should not surprise us. It is good to discuss. But, world over, the question has been whether to have textbooks or not. Having our own issues, we do not discuss whether to keep or remove them, we discuss whether to have government prescribed books or privately prescribed ones. This may even surprise educators elsewhere. But, since, we are from a place where we believe that textbooks are a be all and end all of education, as in Krishna Kumar’s opinion: in India textbook is a de facto curriculum. In our UT as well, we usually do not bother to enrich our curriculum which would include the totality of happenings in the schools including, for example, the seemingly administrative activity in the form of parent teacher meetings or term end results. The curriculum carries the risk of staying invisible, which it does, therefore, we come across terms like ‘hidden curriculum’ as a part of that hazard. Textbooks, on the other side, do not hide, aren’t invisible either. The text reads loudly, speaks, makes itself manifest quite clearly to one and all, as such, we lose sight of the curriculum, but get our eyeballs solely on the textbook. This visibility of the text tends to smoke the curriculum in the school, and masquerades as curriculum, becoming, in the end, de facto curriculum. Linked with the same, I am sure, most of our teachers do not even make out the difference between indoctrination and teaching, I mean they do not know whether they are teaching or indoctrinating while in the class. You use good books and indoctrinate, or you use a bad books and teach, in both of the cases teacher’s intervention wins, books loses. This is where the teacher’s role becomes paramount. We forget the teacher, remember the book. This is the black hole of our education. We have not been able to get inside this hole and shift the focus. Let me, too, focus on what we are conditioned to, and get to the basics of the textbook issue (leaving the curriculum & the teacher) in our place.

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As I see, we could bring spotlight on the textbook issue confronting us on the basis of three parameters:

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  1. Ideological
  2. Academic
  3. Economic
  4. Ideological: We must know that education is not neutral. It has never been. Go anywhere in the world, it is always an ideological enterprise. Common people are naive to believe that education (that comes from schools) is enlightenment. It's not in as far as the way schools are run across the globe. School (curriculum & textbooks included) is oftentimes used as a hegemonic tool by ideologies all over the world be it communism, capitalism, religious ideologies or the political ideologies of the time: dictatorships, monarchies and democracies. In the nation state perspective states also use education, particularly, as a tool for emotional and national integration. This is no top secret. Uniform curriculum (including text books) has always been sought by nations to make the ideology of the state mainstream. In India uniform textbooks as a curricular policy has been mooted since long even when we know that India is multi-lingual, multi-cultural & multi-religious. Diversity prompts us to recommend diverse curriculum (textbooks), but the same diversity would require to be cemented in a common thread for national integration. This is where common textbooks recommendation enters into the scheme. Given our condition and context it seems to weigh more to the powers that be. To account for cultural and language diversity the uniform text books system does recommend inclusion of the local content and context to the tune of 15-25 percent. BOSE always uses NCERT books as a base, and adds local content and context to the measure given. Presently JKBOSE is busy doing it in terms of new NCF in tune with NEP-2020. This is the diversity-uniformity balance that uniform textbooks attempt to strike. JKBOSE text books, therefore, are no more than a customized NCERT textbooks. And we know the standard of NCERT books! Yes, there could be print quality issues when JKBOSE comes out with its localized edition.

Now, let me come to the second point.

  1. Academic: Here, this section could be split into the following:
  2. Prescribing textbooks needs experts to maximize academic benefit to students: Now different private schools have been using different textbooks to enable them freedom of choice, apparently to provide better education opportunities to students. As such, textbook choice should ideally maximize learning opportunities to students. Does this benefit actually accrue in our case? By having a certain set of textbooks a school is supposed to have their teachers adequately trained to use these text books to the fullest. But, from my past more than one decade of experience with private schools I have no qualms to say that these textbooks are not always chosen for benefitting students academically leading to indiscriminate prescription. This can be also gauged from the fact that most of private schools do not have Textbook Screening Committees/panels in place, comprising of experts. This naturally gives way to random prescription. I've noticed it first-hand. This can be almost likened to a prescription by a compounder in place of a doctor. Who carries the load of the school bag? No prizes for guessing. We couldn’t address even school bag load issue for the past decade, even after communiques, one after the other, from school education department, not to talk of addressing the question of quality. The monetary cost of indiscriminate prescription is very feeble as compared to the cost of burden on the young shoulders.

Textbooks writing needs expert authors: This brings us to the point that textbook writing needs huge expertise. We do not say that some renowned publishers do not involve experts, but does it guarantee us all publishers do so? Let’s us presume some reputed schools do involve good publishing groups. What about others? There are innumerable publishers who may or may not ensure quality in writing. Many times I have seen the names of authors mentioned without citing their credentials. Sometimes even authors are not mentioned on the textbook. The academic standards of many such textbooks is questionable in terms of academic standards, not to talk of academic parameters NCF-2005. When many schools do not have textbooks prescription panels, this situation gets grimmer. Who is going to check/control this?  Why hasn’t school unions done anything on all this? Why have they slept over the matter? This can be likened to the situation we confront in medicine/drug industry?  Are all children made to take medicines/drugs each day and all through the year as they are made to go to school? Medicine/health is a once in a while issue. Education, on the other hand, is compulsory, drugs/medicines are optional. NCERT and BOSE, in contrast, ensure that all such author panels comprise of experts. Just check any NCERT or JKBOSE textbook and see for yourself the author panel depicting their credentials and institutions as well.

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Inadequate training of teachers: We must know that ideally if teachers (both government & private) are adequately and effectively trained, we won't require textbooks to teach. If the teachers are adequately trained, all that the schools need to do is to set learning indicators for all classes and allow teachers freedom to realize the aims of education, embedded in learning indicators by planning/framing their own activities (curriculum) before they go to the classroom. But, in our place, we don't have such highly trained teachers who could be left to frame their own curriculum as per the learning needs/indicators. So, we are left with the choice to prescribe textbooks for teachers to align and glide through a readymade curricular track, because without it they would simply not be able to run the affairs of a class. Therefore, text books actually work as an aid to teachers not students. Now how to use this “readymade curricular track” (textbooks) too requires training. How does a teacher know how any set of textbooks is to be put to pedagogic use, and what outcomes are to be realized unless he/she is trained by the school? Here again, we agree that many private schools do train their teachers. But the question is how many actually do? Even when a teacher is trained in a particular school, the next year, he/she could join another one confronting a different set of textbooks, which require a different pedagogic treatment. Differing choice of textbooks challenges our seemingly untrained teacher with differing pedagogic requirements. This should be too much for him/her. And it actually is. We do not get to know this because we treat textbooks remedy in themselves in absence of mediating pedagogy. This is where we make a fatal error. JKBOSE text books stay for good time and retain the benefits of training in government schools even if the teacher gets transferred from school to school.

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Changing textbooks frequently: Presuming that teachers do not changeover, but who will guarantee that textbooks do not change at least for some years in a school. Schools do change textbooks frequently. So, given the training needs of teachers in this regard, how do schools justify any change in books when the training is not provided to teacher in the first place? The schools that train teachers too compromise on this pedagogic advantage in the next couple of years when the books are changed. In fact, the new materials that are prescribed sometimes include significant changes from the previous. The point is who actually benefits from this change? Sometimes textbooks are frequently changed on the pretext of fast changing educational landscape. But the question still remains why this fast changing educational landscape only finds effect in the textbooks? Who checks teacher training? And who checks if the new textbooks are NCF compliant? You are sensitive to educational landscape and you are quick to change textbooks, but you keep the teacher untouched. In our educational landscape differing textbooks bring huge educational challenge which is not accounted for at all.

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  1. Economic:

This brings us to our third point. That's economic dimension of text books. The economic side has two issues: one is exploitative and second is genuinely economic.

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  1. Exploitative: It's the general observation by people that schools have, by and large, exploited this freedom of choice in prescribing text books. More and more text books are prescribed just to fleece parents. Not all schools do, but, it is alleged, many of them do. This has always led to burdening of children’s backs even after the written orders from the school education department. For the past decade, all requests from parents and orders from the department have borne no fruit. Schools do what they want to no matter how it affects children.
  2. Genuinely economic: Second, is the genuine side where many people work as suppliers, books sellers, and other people employed in this trade. I do not consider book sellers as primary culprits in excess textbook prescription, because the primary prescription control lies with the school. All that the book suppliers could do is to induce schools in prescribing more. In that case their culpability is still secondary. If the BOSE prescribed text books become mandatory then it's true that these booksellers will be economically hit and government must seriously think about this issue. Government must take the compassionate & lenient view of the bookseller community and other people/sales people working in this sector, whose bread and butter primarily depends on it.

Do we have some good solution? The solution still wouldn’t lie in textbooks. It lies in how the textbooks are treated. I have seen, our teachers and parents, quite hardwired to use textbooks passively and regressively even if the books are engaging pedagogically. Therefore, use any text the result is going to be the same unless some drastic pedagogic shift takes place. One possible option could be bringing this shift by allowing schools prescribe some workshop/seminar manuals/workbooks/guides which could be used ‘across the curriculum’. The ‘across the curriculum’ skills and competencies get usually buried in the academic chatter over the whole session. Therefore, for unleashing emotional intelligence, social intelligence, creativity, critical thinking, value education, financial education, art education (not just drawing), peace education, AI/ICT education/ health education & problem solving skills each school could introduce a few of them according to their need and training of teachers. This is one way that could help energise and activate the often dead curriculum by scaling down reliance on bookish education which is the basic recommendation of NEP-2020. All these workbooks could be aligned with the prescribed textbooks and retained in the schools only. There should be no examination for this but through curriculum compliant activities these skills/habits could be inculcated in students.

The author teaches at Govt. College of Education, (IASE) MA Road Srinagar

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