The narrative of textbook writing in India: Is it too taxing?

“What’s a textbook?” asked the little child. “Isn’t it just another story book?” “No, my child, it’s not. It’s something more than that. It’s not for your enjoyment, it’s for your empowerment as per our definition of your empowerment” This little conversation with a little child burdened by numerous textbooks prompted me to look at the business of textbook writing commissioned by different Boards and textbook publication corporations of different States of India.
Almost all the States of India have Textbook Publishing Corporations headed by a Managing Director belonging to the Indian Administrative Service. The State Council of Educational Research and Training forms a Textbook Development Coordination Committee and a Textbook Development Committee with subject experts and members. State Project Directors of SSA or RMSA, Directors of SCERTs and Directors of Elementary or Secondary Education will be the members of the all powerful Textbook Development Coordination Committee. The subject experts of the Textbook Development Committee will be drawn from all the four corners of the country. To cite an example, the subject experts for Radiance, the English textbook for class VIII developed by SCERT, Bihar had four subject experts, one from Delhi, one from Shillong, one from Baroda and one from Jehanabad.

The textbooks prepared by the Textbook Development Committees are generally approved by a Committee comprising eminent educationists. To cite a specific example, the English textbook for class VII prepared by Madhya Pradesh Rajya Shilsha Kendra, Bhopal was approved by a galaxy of educationists. A former Vice Chancellor of Rani Durgawati Vishwavidyalaya, Jabalpur, an Assistant General Manager of IDBI, Bhopal, a former Deputy Chairman of MP Sanskrit Board, Bhopal, the Head of the Department of Hindi of Shri Satya Sai Women’s College, Bhopal, Commissioner, Rajya Shiksha Kendra, Bhopal were some of the members of the said Standing Committee. So many high profile educationists for approving the English textbook for class VII of  a State! The stories are almost the same in all the States.
When we look at the narrative of the Govt. sponsored textbook writing, we are impressed by the elaborate arrangement done by various Governments for the preparation of quality textbooks in their respective States. But, ironically, the life span of these textbooks is rather too short. New textbooks replace the old ones at regular intervals. New Committees are formed, new experts are invited and the tradition goes on……
A textbook is not simply a useful and efficient device for teaching and learning a subject, it is the culmination of an academic enterprise aimed at achieving a predetermined goal. The nature and the scope of this goal, the techniques used to achieve this goal and the philosophy underlying this goal are often contentious and problematic. The narrative of textbook writing is fraught with unpredictable consequences. Those who are involved in the process of textbook writing will surely agree with me if I say that a textbook is a nightmare for a textbook writer and it is nothing but an enigma for the teachers and the learners. The apparently innocuous book used in the formal school system to teach a particular subject is a cause for heart burn for all the stakeholders, the curriculum designer, the teachers, the students, the administrators, the policy makers and the guardians. Academic acrimony and political ideology often vitiate the planning and the preparation stages of a textbook and anyone involved in the planning and the production of a textbook is often at a loss to extricate himself or herself from the whirlpool of pedagogical contradictions and political compulsions. The predicament confronting a poor textbook writer is often unfathomable and unbelievable, and it is indeed a herculean task to overcome the hurdles that make textbook writing a challenging task.
Textbooks offer organized and convenient sequences of ideas and information for structured teaching and learning. It is contrived and camouflaged, authoritative and arbitrary.
Who selects the materials for a language textbook? The textbook writers or someone pulling the string from behind? As per the language experts, the validity of any materials meant for a language textbook should have psychological validity, pedagogical validity and process and content validity.( Rubdy,R. Selection of Materials published in Tomlinson, B.(ed). Developing Materials for Language Teaching, 2003). But when you are told that your textbook must have a lesson on this theme or that theme, your academic liberty as a textbook writer is curtailed. You prepare lessons as per your master’s voice. The end result? A boring language textbook which the learners would love to hate.
Give your child a textbook and see if she exclaims, “What a lovely textbook! I enjoy reading it. It’s like my favorite story book!”

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