The issue of textbook availability haunts Manipur at the beginning of academic session. It will still continue to haunt us in the years to come, if we refuse to learn lessons from the past. If we are to seek a solution to this chronic problem, a proper diagnosis is needed. At the very outset, we need to question the attitude and commitment of our education planners and managers towards the problem. Which state agency is executing school textbook policy right from planning to production stage? For the present, the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur (BOSEM) is being charged with the task. Previously, it was the State Council of Educational Research & Training (SCERT).
How the ‘task’ changed hands will indeed be interesting for us to recall. It all started with a campaign by the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) for systematic planning of textbooks through research and a deliberative process. Before the AMSU campaign, SCERT use to invite proposed textbooks from individual writers and publishing firms. The books will go through a selection process, as they said. Then, it becomes the sole responsibility of the selected publishers to publish the selected textbooks and ensure availability in time. But after the campaign, a complete overhauling of the system was done which led to the introduction of group discussions on regional content and group writing of textbooks. And then, top officials of the SCERT began to lose interest in textbook business. They were so powerful that, within a short period of time they lobbied with the government and succeeded in doing away with textbooks and assigning it to the BOSEM, whose main activity then was conducting HSLC examinations. Like the
National Council of Educational Research & Training (NCERT), the basic purpose of establishing SCERTs in the states was for educational research and development of textbooks with regional content including production. How did they manage to convince the government otherwise is still a mystery. Yet, we may deduce from that singular action that the SCERT officials are indeed powerful and that top ministers and officials have no interest in educational planning and research. This is what we call, an indifferent attitude on the part of the state towards education.
Having said this, we would like to discuss why state agencies always fail to avail school textbooks in time. Lack of commitment and sincerity on the part of government officials, once again, comes to the fore. They look at textbooks as an entirely commercial activity. First, they need to convince themselves that, textbook planning and development including production is purely an academic exercise. It is an exercise which will involve educationists, intellectuals and writers. Times have changed and gone are the days of individual writers. A multi-disciplinary approach has become a necessity in the development of textbooks. Be it in English language or Manipuri language or the sciences, multi-disciplinary deliberations is needed, given the changing dynamics of human thought processes and globalization. What kind of citizens do we need to take forward the country in the ever changing world? This must necessarily the guiding principle in the development of the curriculum and textbooks. For such an exercise, multi-disciplinary approach and group writing of textbooks is needed. Secondly, printing and publication of textbooks should be the sole responsibility of state agencies. Outsourcing the task to private parties is another matter. But, publishing responsibility and timely distribution should remain with the state agency handling textbooks. Once again, we are of the opinion that, SCERT should be entrusted with the planning and development including publication of school textbooks. If a change of guard in the top echelons of SCERT is necessary for realization of the same, let it be so. These are some of our thoughts. But for a deeper look, an in-depth study and examination of the problem is required. Perhaps, a high powered committee should be instituted. Frontline civil society organizations inclusive of student organizations should also start looking for solutions instead of starting a blame game.