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Karnataka: Textbook politics

EducationWorld January 17 | Education World

With a mere five months to go for the start of the new academic year in June, the crucial issue of writing and printing textbooks for 9.5 million students enrolled in 66,000 primary and secondary schools affiliated with the Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board (KSEEB), is mired in confusion and controversy. Over the past month in particular, a series of flip-flops by the Congress state government on this issue have caused panic within school managements, teachers and parents.

On December 9, the state’s primary and secondary education minister Tanveer Sait announced that due to a delay in submission of revised textbooks drafts by a state government-appointed review committee, textbooks published by the Delhi-based National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) would be prescribed for classes IX-X of all KSEEB-affiliated schools in the new academic year 2017-18. He also confirmed that the process of translating NCERT social science, mathematics and science textbooks into Kannada, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu — the dominant languages of the state — had begun.

However, the minister’s announcement drew strong criticism from members of the textbook review committee (TRC), appointed in May 2015 by the state government to supervise 27 sub-committees revising class I-X textbooks. TRC chairman Baraguru Ramachandrappa, a popular Kannada writer, countered the minister’s claim that the revision exercise is delayed. “We have finished our work. If the government officially communicates to us that these books will go to print, we will submit the drafts in a week. It is an insult to experts if they adopt other textbooks,” said Ramachandrappa speaking to media persons, and appealed to chief minister Siddaramaiah to review Sait’s decision.

Subsequently on December 14, the chief minister’s office issued a statement that duly revised state board textbooks — not NCERT books — will be used by all KSEEB-affiliated schools from the academic year 2017-18. It also directed the TRC to submit the revised drafts by January 15. According to sources within the education ministry, the CM’s decision was prompted by the argument that using NCERT texts would signal a break from the well-established practice of state board schools using textbooks written and published by the Karnataka Textbook Society (KTBS). Moreover, the Congress state government is keen to fulfill its election promise of ‘de-saffronising’ school books as well as correcting several ‘printing errors’.

However, the CM’s diktat to the Ramachandrappa TRC to speed up submission of the draft textbooks has drawn criticism from the BJP which has accused the government of bypassing “a number of procedures prescribed for revision of textbooks”. Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, former primary & secondary education minister in the erstwhile BJP government, says that TRC is yet to furnish a report on the new textbooks or submit textbook “samples” to the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) for scrutiny. According to him sufficiently acceptable textbooks will be ready only in December 2017.

According to Ramachandrappa, although “books haven’t been rewritten and only mistakes have been corrected”, the revision process has been thorough and complete. Yet claims of a thorough textbooks writing and review process by either BJP or Congress-appointed committees doesn’t inspire much confidence among the state’s academics and educationists because it’s an open secret that all appointments — directors of the Karnataka Textbook Society, DIETs, textbook writing and review committee members — are made arbitrarily by politicians for ideological and/or commercial considerations, rather than on merit and academic track record.

Moreover, the academics and scholars selected to write/review the texts are mid-level government school/college teachers. Reputed academics and experts from the private sector are rarely invited to write or review state government textbooks. In this flawed and tightly government-controlled Rs.178 crore textbooks printing business, quality, factual accuracy and excellence are secondary considerations.

D. Shashikumar, general secretary of Associated Managements of Primary & Secondary Schools in Karnataka (KAMS), which has a membership of over 1,700 private schools statewide, believes that the revision exercise will be valuable only if it’s thorough. “Schools will value the exercise only if the revision is done thoroughly and honestly and if the new texts follow National Curriculum Framework guidelines. All textbooks should be submitted for audit and review to experts to ensure that there are no factual and other errors. Moreover it’s important that the exercise is completed well in time to allow teachers to familiarise themselves with their content.”

Though the Ramachandrappa TRC is yet to make its revised textbooks public, the haste and flip-flops on the review exercise don’t bode well for the 9.5 million children in state board affiliated schools who are more than likely to be lumbered with sub-standard textbooks again.

Jeswant J.M. (Bangalore)

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