Reckless Textbook Policy

will undermine Childhood Literacy

I begin this article by revisiting the status of the NCERT and its formation. The current circulars (I’ve read three so far) from the regional offices of the CBSE regarding NCERT books in CBSE schools make us curious about the NCERT. The NCERT was set up in 1961 as an autonomous organisation to assist and advise the central and state governments on policies and programmes for qualitative improvement in school education. The NCERT remit includes research in areas related to school education and the publication of model textbooks (the operative word being ‘model’). A memorandum of association was signed on 6th June 1961, and the NCERT was registered as a charitable society under the Societies’ Act.

As a layperson, I would like to raise a fundamental question:

does the NCERT by its own admission have the mandate to publish textbooks for commercial use and also make profit from them? How does the term ‘model textbooks’ empower the NCERT to mass-produce and monetise for profit? At the 102nd Meeting of the Executive committee of the NCERT, held on 12th April 2016, the then Hon’ble HRM wanted an outside audit of the performance of the Publication Division to be conducted.

Was this audit undertaken and, if so, what was its outcome? As a taxpayer, could I request the NCERT to publish this report and disclose the name of the audit firm?
If we believe that the NCERT has no mandate to publish the textbooks, how is it that the CBSE is going all out to promote them in schools? This leads us to review CBSE and its status.

With regard to the CBSE, one of the functions of the professor and director (academics, research, training and innovation) is to publish textbooks for Secondary and Senior Secondary classes. (Please note that this does not include books for primary classes. ie. up to Class 8.)
The regional directors of the CBSE are responsible for all matters concerning conduct of main and compartmental Secondary and Senior Secondary certificate examinations, and their administration, major areas being pre- and postexamination work, declaration of examination results and other related activities. Of late, however, it appears that they have chosen to empower themselves to also issue notifications from their desks regarding textbooks.
I observe that none of these circulars have been uploaded on the official CBSE website, unless my navigation knowledge does not take me to that page.
If you look further, the CBSE has a number of committees for revision and updating of curriculum documents, policies relating to academics, training and innovation, and many related matters. But there is no committee that is empowered to recommend textbooks, as outlined on the CBSE website. Matters of such fundamental importance as textbooks are being dealt with by individuals and not by due process.

"Does the NCERT have the mandate to publish textbooks for commercial use and also make profit from them? How is it that the CBSE is going all out to promote them in schools?"

On 30th March 2017, International Publishers Association in its press release with reference to the country of Georgia has warned: Childhood literacy in Georgia will be a primary casualty of a well-meaning but destructive schoolbook law that has handed the government control of all textbooks. It has further stated that this policy will set the country’s educational publishing industry heading to annihilation. At the IPA we have seen it happen in other countries – such as Hungary and Poland – that state monopolies in textbook publishing always fail to deliver the quality resources that teachers, students and their parents deserve. State publishing monopolies capsize successful business models, cause long-term damage to educational performances and youth literacy, and cause the avoidable losses of thousands of the jobs that are generated by pluralistic, competitive publishing markets.
I request the Government of India to learn from the experiences of three other nations which have gone through this experiment and failed. This government policy will have a deeply negative impact on the educational system. The literacy of our youth is in real danger because most publishers and authors will not risk creating new textbooks any more if their very prescription is in question. If the practices outlined above are allowed to be adopted without review, the whole book market would be hit by serious financial problems, and many hardworking, good people who have contributed to India’s literacy will stand to lose their jobs. Sadly, the current situation has led to a degree of mistrust and misunderstanding between the Ministry of Human Resources Development and the publishing industry.
I will end by requesting the Hon’ble Prime Minister to note that statistics show that over 95 per cent of the books and resources utilised in Indian classrooms are made in India. The Indian Publishing Industry has been proud to be at the forefront of the Make in India programme, and would like to continue to be able to do so.
However, the manner in which the CBSE and the NCERT are interpreting the Make in India policy implies that textbooks can only be produced by one entity, ie. the NCERT, which by its own definition was never a publisher to begin with. To restrict education and publishing in this manner would be dangerous and limiting to the proper growth and development of our young people, and I request the Hon’ble Prime Minister to look into this matter and intervene on their behalf.



Cricket, Soft Power and lazy India

The Indian cricket teamis a picture of unityin diversity, an equal opportunity club where the only criteria is the player’s performance. In a country where accusations of nepotism, regionalism, and favoritism are rampant, the Indian cricket team has mostly managed to maintain its reputation as a meritocracy that attracts talent from around the country.
A common belief is that cricket in India is a legacy of the ‘British raj’. The Oscar-nominated Aamir Khan-starrer Lagaan reinforced the notion that India got cricket from the British. The prolific writer, parliamentarian, and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor takes to task the British enslavement of the Indian subcontinent in his recent book An Era of Darkness, but ignores cricket. I usually find myself disagreeing with Tharoor’s position on many issues, but on the matters discussed in this book, I am in agreement with much of what he says. Once I make my case for cricket as a storied sport with rich historical roots all the way back to antiquity, I turn my attention to India’s inability to effectively wield cricket as a tool for soft power. Harvard University professor Jospeh Nye defines ‘soft power’ as a nation’s ability to attract others without pressure or inducements (see his 2004 book ‘Soft Power: The Means to Succeed in World Politics’ for more on this).

The history of cricket can be traced back to the dawn of human civilisation. For ancient Egyptians, the bat-andball game was at par with life and sex. Professor Peter Piccione of College of Charleston (in South Carolina, USA) believes ‘batting the ball’ was a fertility ritual performed in Egyptian spring festivals. The temple of Queen Hatshepsut near Luxor (ancient Thebes, in Egypt) has wall paintings of the queen’s stepson playing with two priests using bat and ball. The inscriptions above the paintings make reference to ‘hitting the ball’ (that is, batting) and ‘catching the ball’ (that is, fielding).
Historical records suggest that Asian-Turkish tribes may have introduced their version of bat-and-ball to Romanian shepherds. From there, the sport went to medieval England, where it was called ‘stoolball’ (stools were the ancestors of modern wickets). The sport became so popular in England that it had to be prohibited by royal decree as it interfered with men’s archery practices. Gradually, and with the spread of British interests around the world, cricket migrated to other countries, including to India when British traders started doing business during Jahangir’s time and the United States where it slowly morphed into baseball.
Today, the International Cricket Council recognises ten countries as full members of the league of nations playing cricket, with several other countries (eg. Scotland and Afghanistan) waiting to be admitted to this exclusive limitedmembership club. Given its long and multicultural history, it does not make much sense to think of cricket as a British sport. Indeed, cricket is no more British than football (or soccer) is Brazilian or Argentinian or Portuguese.
The first humans to come out of Africa were probably already hitting a ball with their feet or with a bat to entertain themselves. Cricket (and other sports like football) truly belong to the world, and not any one particular country. And yet, cricket appeals to a fundamental aspect of Indian identity: e pluribus unum (out of many, one). Cricket is a team sport, but when batting or bowling or fielding, the onus is on the individual. This is the Indian spirit that has been passed on from the time that Chanakya wrote his magnum opus: one for all, all for one.
With its affinity to Indian philosophical principles and its tremendous popularity in India, it seems natural for cricket to be a powerful tool in the India’s arsenal of soft power. Alas, it is far from being so! The Broad of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may be the richest cricket governing body in the world, but it has failed to do much to invest its considerable resources in taking Indian cricket to new lands. Indeed, BCCI’s lack of efforts in leveraging the soft power of cricket becomes even more glaring when one compares it to the initiatives taken by American bodies like National Basketball Association, National Football League, and National Hockey League to take their respective sports to countries around the world. These organizations invest considerable time and money to broaden the international base of their sport, which the BCCI can also do, but does not do.
To be honest, India has done an overall poor job of wielding its soft power, whether it is cricket or other things (Tharoor’s 2007 book The Elephant, The Tiger, and The Cellphone counts Bollywood and Bhangra as other tools in India’s arsenal of soft power). Compare India’s lack of official investment in soft power to China’s wellthought

strategic initiatives like the ‘Confucius Institute’ and ‘Panda Diplomacy’ that have generated awareness and fascination for Chinese culture around the world. BCCI, on the other hand, has completely missed the boat on leveraging the potential popular appeal of cricket as well as of Indian players who have made a name for themselves in this storied sport (think Sunil Gavaskar or MS Dhoni).
One may argue that the BCCI’s apparent lack of interest in using cricket for soft power diplomacy is no worse than the failure of successive Indian governments in truly understanding and embracing the idea of soft power like United States and China were able to do well. While in theory, soft power can ‘go a long way toward enhancing India’s intangible standing in the world’s eyes’ (to use Tharoor’s words), in practice, the country has not even started taking baby steps in this direction. Cricket may be a potent tool in the Indian arsenal, if India and Indians are willing to forego their misconception of it as a British sport and take the initiative to take it around the world as a universal sport appropriate for a multi-cultural world.