India aims to be a knowledge economy and one of the key prerequisites of achieving that goal is the availability of good quality human resources. Unfortunately, the education system has consistently failed to meet this crucial quality test. There are several reasons for this. Poor quality of syllabi and educators and lack of good infrastructure top the list. However, there is one more serious shortcoming: The quality of school textbooks. According to a recent news report, Class 7 and 8 textbooks in Gujarat are replete with wrong information: Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on October 30, 1948, Japan nuked the United States in 1948 and a new country ‘Islamic Islamabad’ was formed after Partition with its capital at ‘Khyber Ghat’ in the Hindu Kush. These information were put together by a panel of experts of the Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training and the Gujarat State Board for School Textbooks. The state government has now appointed another set of experts to review and revise these textbooks.
However, the Gujarat case is not an aberration. In 2012, a Punjab School Education Board textbook defined heavy industries as: “Industries in which very heavy type of raw materials are used are known as heavy industry”. It’s not just the different state boards that have dished out such unacceptably low quality textbooks, even the National Council of Educational Research and Training, which assists and advises the central and state governments on academic matters related to school education, have done the same. Then there have been several attempts by political parties to thrust their agendas on impressionable minds via school textbooks. India’s poor showing in international assessment tests is often a result of such unprofessional pedagogical approaches.
There are several reasons behind such substandard textbooks: State boards often lack finances to get the top academics to write these books. Second, the physical quality of the books are often not up to the mark because of costs pressures and often mistakes go uncorrected because of logistical difficulties. This shoddy approach of government agencies and textbook publishers should get adequate attention of the HRD ministry.