“Are these alarm bells?” asked a Principal. It took some time to understand what she was referring to. It was indeed about a recent circular issued by the Board to the schools with regard to the modus operandi of purchase of textbooks for the students of the schools for K-12 classes.

In a directive issued to all the affiliated schools, the CBSE had asked the schools to place orders for the textbooks published by the NCERT well on time. Though the Board had always recommended the NCERT books along with the NCERT curriculum, the schools had the option to use the books published by the private publishers across the country, especially for classes K-8. This had been the practice for the last several decades. For other classes, as the prescribed books were of NCERT, the schools and the students sought to use the books from private publishers to obtain additional information and for the qualitative consideration of the concepts which helped them to enlarge their understanding and levels of application of knowledge.

Further, the private publishing industry has played a significant role over several decades to facilitate the improvement of teaching-learning processes in schools by providing support systems through pedagogical supports, assessment formats and technology empowerment. Apart from private publishers, there are several other stakeholders who contribute to the enrichment of school education system across the country in one way or the other.

What the circular meant?

The circular issued by the Board on 7th February 2016 advised the schools to file their requirements of NCERT textbooks well in advance through a specific online channel keeping in pace with the Digital India initiative and this in no way says that the books are mandatory for all classes. The objective was to ensure easy and early availability of these books to all the schools who have placed the orders.
Few prominent publishers met the honourable Union Minister of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India Prakash Javadekar, who assured that Ministry of HRD or CBSE has no intention to make NCERT books mandatory in CBSE schools. He also acknowledged the role of private publishers and assured that no such decision would be taken without public consensus.

Another circular number Acad-09/2017 was issued by CBSE on February 23, 2017 and in this also there was no mention of the mandatory use of NCERT textbooks. In fact, it says “However, from the learner’s point of view, a child always has an option to refer to additional textual materials if he / she so desired.” The circular also said that “CBSE has been drawing the attention of all affiliated schools for use of NCERT textbooks as far as practicable as reiterated in CBSE’s circular no 20/2014 dated 06/02/2014…”. However, what is the definition of practicable is missing in these circulars.

Nowhere in any of the above circulars, there was any mention about any restrictions on the use of the books published by the private publishers or the Board expressing any desire about the discontinuation of the existing practices that have been in place for the last several decades. However, the interpretation of the above circulars by certain external agencies did lead to some avoidable speculations for the schools about their procedures in the selection of thebooks including those of the private publishers.

Quality content – need of the hour

In a world dominated by extensive flow of knowledge and information, and especially in the context of India’s emerging global leadership in several fields, it has become imperative to make the students of today to be competent and skillful enough to face the emerging challenges. The importance of good quality textbooks in the formative years of a child cannot be ignored. Hence, schools give lot of importance on the selection of books every year, choosing books which are curated by the best of editors, digital content creators and developers. Books of good quality is an investment not only for a better future for children, their families, and the society, but also for the country at large, as good textbooks are one of the most important pillars of education in the formative years. In this competitive environment where students are under pressure to constantly improve their results. Also, college cut-off marks are soaring every year making it imperative that students are well-equipped to score as well as compete with fellow students from other boards.

The role of textbooks published by the private publishers in fulfilling these goals cannot be underrated. As such, the books of private publishers do gain market only if they are able to meet and deliver certain basic quality norms sought by the Private schools who have set up a high benchmark for their quality of education in terms of content and pedagogy. Hence, this industry has always been providing not only support, but a meaningful leadership in empowering quality education.
Private publishers employ and avail the services of best of editors, graphic designers, renowned authors, digital content creators and developers as their commitment and endeavour to create international quality books at the lowest possible prices. Textbooks prices in India are amongst the lowest in the world, even lower than some developing nations.
Besides, books from reputed private publishers also support teachers by way of workshops/trainings/teacher resource material/lesson plans/digital content/web support/question papers/worksheets, etc. So, schools do not buy just books, they get a complete package which enhances and supports their school framework.
These books are not only qualitatively competitive to meet the current and futuristic needs of learning, but also provide visual and intellectual insights to scaffold effective learning, facilitate progressive sublimation of knowledge into creative domains and give opportunities for extensive and extended learning on curricular inputs.

Equal opportunities for learners…

Educators also believe that adequate opportunities should exist to the learners to consider thoughts and ideas in a free and fair manner. They consider that availability of several learning inputs designed strictly on the National curricular framework and the NCERT curriculum would provide more opportunities for meaningful learning and a level playing ground for public-private participation in ushering quality changes in the field of school education.

Given the scenario, both the industry and the schools are looking forward to better clarity in the matter with a progressive outlook to provide opportunities to the industry to be active, positive and engaging participants in the universalization and quality access to school education.