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A matter of writing the wrongs

From selecting a panel of writers to preparing content, editing, proof-reading, reviewing and finally printing, any number of things could go wrong in the long process of writing a school textbook. Bhavya Dore and Mugdha Variyar reports.

mumbai Updated: Feb 26, 2013 01:58 IST

From selecting a panel of writers to preparing content, editing, proof-reading, reviewing and finally printing, any number of things could go wrong in the long process of writing a school textbook.

Both, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) as well as various State Councils of Education Research and Training (SCERTs) produce textbooks for schools across the countries. Broad guidelines for writing these are enshrined in the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 2005, which experts say is a good blueprint. But how the textbook turns out also depends on how the states follow these recommendations.

In Maharashtra, the system works like this: A board of studies decides the syllabus. Then, a team of authors are selected - often experts on the subject such as university professors. The writers work as a group and begin by preparing the content, often referring to recognised texts and encyclopaedias.

At this stage, there are two problems - replication of old information and plagiarism.

"I am wary of collective book-writing," said a physics professor from Mumbai who was part of one such team in 2002. "We may not be able to detect instances of plagiarism but the responsibility is a collective one."

Experts said the writers' language skills were often an issue. "While most of them are good at their subject, some may not be good writers, creating room for grammatical and linguistic errors," said Vasant Kalpande, a former member of SCERT in Maharashtra.

"One of the main reasons why so many errors slip in is that we don't find many copy editors and proofreaders who are good at their work," said Kalpande. "Often, the copy editors are not acquainted with the subject."

After the study material passes through the editing phase, a manuscript is prepared, which is reviewed by groups of about 50 teachers. But there is inefficiency at this stage too. "When teachers are given the books to get their feedback, instead of being frank, they are quite intimidated, and the process is not very effective," said a professor.

The NCF recommends decentralising the curriculum and letting states take control of how textbooks are written, (see box). While this could improve the situation significantly, many said a holistic approach is required.

"We need much more capacity building in the districts and states, to share a deeper understanding about the new approach for textbooks," said Anita Rampal, professor of education and former dean, faculty of education, Delhi University. "We need a stronger and a more robust regulatory mechanism both for the state and private textbooks."