From the primary education stage, children are asked, “What is your aim in life?” This simple question can potentially orient a person for future life occupations. Children with academically oriented parents are likely to achieve their goals in life faster and easier than those left in a lurch. Teachers and educational institutions act as parents to orient students in life. Orientation comes with the type and quality of educational materials (books, notes, classes, ICT, etc). All the State Boards of India do not have the same academic materials for their citizens. Education is a concurrent subject, so State/UT Governments have a vital role in implementing the National Education Policy 2020. NCERT directs the SCERTs to prepare textbooks, and SCERTs take into consideration their regional concerns.
Education has much wider input sources. Textbooks serve as initial formal reading material in the education process. Textbooks are not comprehensive and exhaustive; they provide minimum orientation to students for more profound research. Although textbooks are incomplete, we must choose and prescribe quality textbooks to orient and ignite young minds. We should spend money on quality books rather than on branded dresses. We must dress the brain first while the body can survive with an average-quality dress. A nation is not respected for its dresses but for the number of inventions and innovations. To invent and innovate, we must train the brain through quality (text)books. Speaking at the 36th Convocation of India Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) at its Regional Centre located at Imphal, Anusuiya Uikey, the Governor of Manipur, said that education has been recognised as an essential instrument for the economic and political transformation of society. She noted that well-educated human resources, equipped with knowledge and appropriate skills, are vital for economic and social development. Moreover, education is an integrative force in a diverse community like India (AIR News). She further emphasised the need to promote research activities in educational institutes to a great extent as it pushes frontiers of knowledge to evolve technologies (IFP Bureau). Research begins from a very early age in the minds of children. Therefore, the need for quality books in education systems.
National Focus Group on Curriculum, Syllabus and Textbooks (NCERT, 2006) discussed the Role of the Textbook and ‘National Standards’. The Secondary Education Commission (1952) pointed out that the then curriculum was “narrow, bookish and theoretical” with an overloaded syllabus and unsuitable textbooks. It suggested that the curriculum should not be separated into several watertight subjects but that all topics should be interrelated and should include relevant and significant content so that it could touch students’ lives. It also recommended that a high-powered committee be set up in every State for selecting textbooks and for laying down appropriate criteria, emphasising that “No single textbook should be prescribed for any subject of study, but a reasonable number which satisfy the standards laid down, should be recommended, leaving the choice to the schools concerned” (p. 83). The subsequent Education Commission (1964–66) continued to highlight the poor quality of school education and commented on the low quality of textbooks, owing to the lack of research related to their preparation and production and the lack of interest of top-ranking scholars in this area. It called for the definition of “national standards”. It recommended centralised textbook production to conform to those, starting at the national level and also supporting the establishment of bodies at the State level. In hindsight, we can see that the problematic role of the textbook continues from the colonial education system, which has assumed a sacrosanct position in the school and the classroom, marginalising the role of the curriculum.
The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) bases its pivotal trust on transforming the education sector from Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) to higher education. NEP 2020 attempts to make education holistic, experiential, integrated, character-building, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centred, discussion-based, flexible, and more joyful (Anita Karwal, IAS, Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education, Government of India). Quality textbooks produce a quality teaching-learning process beneficial for students to have a global mindset in a local context. NEP 2020 attempts to provide quality textbooks at the lowest possible cost. Even if the State education board prepares textbooks with local concerns, “it must be borne in mind that NCERT curriculum would be taken as the nationally acceptable criterion. Where possible, schools and teachers will also have choices in the textbooks they employ – from among a set of textbooks that contain the requisite national and local material – so that they may teach in a manner that is best suited to their own pedagogical styles as well as to their students and communities needs” (NEP 2020, 4.31). While the NEP 2020 promises great goals, its implementation will show us ground-zero results in various regions of India. Diversity, being a defining indicator of India, blanket uniformity is going to be an arduous task. “The Curricula across our country must be informed by and be fully responsive to the glorious unity and diversity of India” (National Curriculum Framework, 2023). NEP 2020, therefore, has provisions for regional concerns as well. “All efforts will be made in preparing high-quality bilingual textbooks and teaching-learning materials for science and mathematics so that students are enabled to think and speak about the two subjects both in their home language/mother tongue and in English” (NEP 2020, 4.14). Apart from quality textbooks, NEP 2020 also recommends the timely availability of textbooks for students.
Tuition centres contribute a lot to nation-building. These centres refer to many books and teach students from various sources not included in a particular education system’s prescribed (text)books. From Standard 8 onwards, tuition-going students are taught different problem-solving styles, kinds of prose writing, analytical solutions, etc. These introductory classes orient and ignite students’ minds to read more books and access academic sources outside of their strict syllabus and curriculum. Can any force on earth debar a student from reading books not prescribed by a particular education system? This may happen in a dictatorship democracy like North Korea. The idea of establishing libraries is to open the floodgate of the intellectual arena to students. Inculcating the habit of reading is a precursor to having literate citizens who will advance the nation. So, forcing students to read only prescribed books of a particular education system will inhibit their inquisitiveness and block their universal outlook. Confining students to only prescribed (text)books can jeopardise the very motif of education.
The State and Central board exams have specific ways of conducting their exams to the best of their capacity. An aspiring candidate must fill out the prescribed form for the competitive or board exams. After that, it is left to the students to read and prepare through whatever books, classes, audio-visual or otherwise. Only through multiple readings and inputs can people prepare for State or Central competitive exams. Therefore, we should encourage children to read various books apart from the prescribed (text)books during a particular academic session. “Right to think, right to write, right to read and right to publish are significant components of freedom of speech and expression which cannot be deprived of without approved constitutional grounds. Prohibition of import and circulation of books, prevention of publication is not listed as remedies in the Constitution of India. These are extraordinary powers created by statutes under a broad ground of ‘public order’, unfortunately” (Madabhushi Sridhar). Usually, the Government of India bans books that can hurt religious sentiments or wrong depictions of national martyrs. Most incredible people in the world have the habit of book reading. Especially for intellectually advanced students, only textbook reading would be boring and could demotivate their learning capacity.
CBSE or State Board
Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is more manageable than State Board as the former concentrates on conceptual understanding while the latter stresses memorising concepts. For higher education, CBSE is a better option as the entrance examination for Engineering and Medical is based on the CBSE syllabus that can reach you to IIT and AIIMS. State boards might not be the suitable medium to choose these tough exams chiefly because the students try to mug up rather than understand the crux of the concept (Sangeetha). CBSE addresses the practise-based learning issue and stresses updating its syllabus to keep in sync with changing needs. In 2017, CBSE decided to implement a uniform assessment system to standardise the evaluation process. If “One Nation, One Law” becomes fruitful, there could be a time when we will have a “One Nation, one Education system” so that all can prepare equally and get equal opportunity for academic excellence.
Unfortunately, some SCERTs cannot update on time despite the NCF’s recommendations regarding guidelines for syllabi, textbooks, and teaching practices for schools in India. The quality of a society can be known from the types of books its denizens read or the quality of books its educational institutions prescribe, ascribe or encourage. Perhaps, having more bookstalls than dress stalls will indicate a society’s academic orientation. A community is formed and nurtured through its quality books and varied sources of educational input. Parents and elders become essential agents in encouraging students to read books outside their minimum (text)books at the school or college levels. Quality books produce quality people for a quality society.