CBSE schools on the horns of dilemma

A controversy of epic proportions has been raging in the academic circles of CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) schools for some time. It’s about the use of textbooks.
 
The NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training) is vested with the responsibility of preparing textbooks for the CBSE-affiliated schools.

However, private publishers also prepare textbooks for the use of these schools and they are expected to adhere to the NCERT syllabus while preparing them. 

Books prepared by the NCERT as well as private publishers have been used in CBSE schools all along, as the school have the freedom to use either of these publications from Classes I to VIII.  

Of late, the CBSE has been discouraging schools from opting for private publishers, and there are valid reasons to do so — the first one being the tendency of private publishers to overprice their books. 

They influence the schools to prescribe to their books, in exchange of huge discounts that the schools can’t desist. This unholy nexus between private schools and publishers has irked the CBSE, which has now decided to take action against it. The move has been strengthened by a number of complaints from parent groups.

Obviously, the CBSE had no choice but ask schools to use NCERT books to the “maximum extent possible.” It helps that NCERT books are priced lower in comparison and the contents are original and authentic. 

The CBSE has just stopped short of banning the private books, perhaps for legal reasons. However, the series of circulars that came from the CBSE these in the two months must have sent out a clear message to private publishers indicating that their game is up, and they need to be more sensitive towards the societal needs that they also claim to serve. 
 
Books from private publishers are not only priced high, but also sometimes the contents are at variance with the NCERT syllabus. They add more material to impress the schools and the parents. They bring out a new edition with cosmetic changes every year, only to hike their prices. Although their business runs into hundreds of crores, their greed does not seem to stop. Hence, the current mess is something that they have invited upon themselves. 

The CBSE has not banned private publishers’ books per se, but they have brought in an element of coercion in this matter, much to the discomfiture of schools and the utter dismay of the publishers.

Schools have their own reasons to worry about. To them, the timing of this stricture is all wrong.  It’s too late as they have already placed orders for their books, which they have to adhere to now.

Money talks
A second worry of the schools is the rigmarole of getting NCERT books. The books are not readily available most of the time. Schools have to depend on vendors who agree to deliver NCERT books only if the schools place orders for private agencies’ books too. That is where their profit lies. The NCERT pays them a meagre commission, while the private players are very generous in this matter. Most people cannot but see which side their bread is buttered on.

This year, schools have been given the option to place online orders directly to the NCERT for textbooks. This again is too little, too late. How can books be indented, printed and supplied in less than two months across the country?

The NCERT depots are known for their inept handling of the distribution system. Even when books are available they are not supplied. The entire chain of operation leaves much to be desired. Unless the NCERT becomes truly professional and efficient in all respects, this problem cannot be resolved.

The problem therefore is two-fold — the inefficiency of the public sector and the greed of the private sector. The schools are caught on the horns of this dilemma. 

Unless the Ministry of Human Resource Development steps in and initiates a concrete action plan, this muddle will repeat year after year, to the disquiet and dismay of schools, parents and students.  
It is time these aegean stables are cleaned. We may need another Hercules to bring in a river to clean them.

(The writer is Director, Little Rock Indian School, Brahmavar, Udupi)

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