Sesh Seshadri
Publishing Consultant

As the world changes, business practices must change as well. Recent developments at the NCERT/CBSE are forcing school textbook publishing companies to radically overhaul their strategy not just to sustain but perhaps even to survive.
Based on my interviews with a number of stakeholders over the last month, all I came across was worry and negativity; there was hardly any positive feeling. Many models of business were discussed and recommended for the future of schoolbook publishing. But none of the ones suggested were in line with the magnitude and urgency of the current ground reality. While everyone recommended engaging with different levels of the government, from the education secretary upwards, no concrete solution or idea was forthcoming.
Subjects discussed included: should textbook prices be brought down substantially? Should there be price limit prescribed for textbooks at each grade level? Should there be a price-fixing formula? Should all value additions, like workshop, e-learning tools etc. be dropped? Should we bring down the resellers discount to 15-20%? And so on and so forth.
Ironically, the industry is forced to think of all this when we have been successful in our publishing, both with regard to content and delivery. Schools have appreciated and continue to appreciate the excellent work done by private publishing houses. Ask the best of professionals, and they will tell you the school they went to, and the books they studied. A further irony: these professionals include those presently in power, now proposing new structures within the education framework! While I appreciate the good work done by the CBSE in conducting examinations and organising assessments, we need to compare CBSE with other examination boards. Let’s begin with Cambridge International Examination (CIE). The CIE has set global standards for international education and functions in almost 160 countries around the world. The other widely accepted international board is the International Baccalaureate (IB), with a well-earned reputation for high standards of teaching and student achievement. The IB has a presence in over 4,500 schools worldwide. Both these examinations offer regular professional development programmes at their schools.
If we compare this with the CBSE, while the number of schools administered by them is close to 18,000 schools, ninety-nine per cent of it is in just one country, India. Further, consider the issues with the CBSE in the past year: (i) it discontinues the CBSE-i exams; (ii) it stops printing of books as this is not part of its mandate, (iii) and, as I write this, the NEET issue has gone to the Supreme Court.
How is it that an examination board is not thinking through all of its planned actions for implementation? Yet, despite the very serious issues listed above, the CBSE is considered the premium examination board in India! In order to avoid further embarrassment, the government must make tough decisions, and build a strong and committed team at the topmost level to steer the CBSE in the proper direction if school education in our country is to be of the proper standard. There is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting to work when your brand value is at stake.

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