NCERT is supposed to revise its syllabus and content in accordance with the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), a document which assesses the need of the hour and tweaks the curriculum according to what’s current and relevant. NCF is the cornerstone upon which any revision of syllabus should be based on, and the government is supposed to release it every five years at the very least. However, the last NCF came out in 2005, more than 12 years ago. ‘Something which was relevant 10 years back may not be relevant today, and accordingly the NCF decides whether some subjects or topics have been rendered obsolete and need to be eliminated, or new ones need to be included,’ says Amit Gupta of Good Luck Publishing.

And this is where private publishers have been able to carve a niche for themselves by being at the frontier of design and innovation, coming out with newer ways to impart education every year with updated content.

‘Schools should not become commercial establishments, and retailing of books in schools was a burden for parents. These were the main concerns of CBSE,’ a school teacher said wishing not to be named.

Part of the reason why private publishers’ textbooks cost higher is because of the design and innovation which goes behind it. ‘Publishers hire highly qualified and expert designers who have mastered their art from reputed colleges and are well aware of the design and aesthetics that go into publishing a textbook,’ Dinesh Goyal of ASBP says.

‘The cost of paper has increased by 15 per cent in the last few months. And while paper used by NCERT is highly subsided, the paper that private publishers use is far superior in quality than the ones used by NCERT,’ says Gupta.

Private textbook publishers also consult with teachers and academicians for preparing the learning material and content of their textbooks. ‘We go through the catalogues and books of various publishers to try and find something nice to be included into the syllabus. We like private publishers because they invite our opinions and feedbacks and change their content accordingly,’ says Lakshmi Srinivasan of Indirapuram Public School. Publishers also give free samples to schools, provide additional materials with the books such as teacher resource, CDs for the students to learn through illustrations and animations and conduct workshops, all of which add to their cost as well.

The confusion created around the MHRD-CBSE circular has inevitably resulted in publishers suffering losses. ‘The negative impact has been noticeable as many schools delayed their purchasing orders,’ a spokesperson for Viva Publications said. ‘However, a decision like this is unlikely to pass. But if it happens, I think in the long run publishers will find a newer avenue because they are always adapting to change,’ he added.

‘This year because of the decision at least a 100 schools throughout the country opted for NCERT instead of us,’ adds Amit Gupta. Ajit Singh of JPH Textbook says the mandate has affected sales but ‘we cannot say whether we have suffered any losses because that information would only be available by September.’

As for schools, many had already placed their orders with the publishers for this year and were therefore not sure how to react to the mandate. ‘Most of the schools prepare their book list by January, so for any such decision to be taken the order has to pass before that,’ says Ashok Pandey, Principal, Ahlcon International.

Ankit Gupta, who is also the owner of Pinewood School, Saharanpur, says it was ‘already too late this year and we went ahead with the private publishers for this academic year.’

The decision, if implemented rigorously, will severely affect not only the lakhs of people the publishing industry directly and indirectly employs, but will ultimately also impact the schools and students the government hopes to benefit.

‘You do not want your students to have a restrictive way of thinking, or a single mindset approach to studying, and for that you need private publishers to exist to offer variety, diversity and innovation in their content,’ points out Dinesh Goyal. He adds that ASBP has been in talks with the government and a dialogue has been established. ‘However, their language is political and we have not yet received a clear response from them.’

Giving his thoughts on the matter, Ashok Pandey says, ‘I think there should not be any prescription, and wherever choice (of books) is available, schools should be given those choices. The time is right for the academia, publishers, the government and NCERT to come together and have an open discussion about the larger issues involved. Only then can we find a solution which will truly help improve the quality of education and benefit students.’

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