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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Are textbooks child-centred?

Are textbooks child-centred?


TEXTBOOKS play a key role in socialisation of the child — through them a child vicariously experiences the world. Thus, the publishers and authors who select the text have a great responsibility. However, a survey of the textbook market in India would probably reveal: 
   Textbooks, in general, are overloaded with information, facts and figures 
   Most textbooks may profess to abide by the guidelines enshrined in the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005. But, while they adopt the themes as examples, their approach remains archaic, ie to disseminate information to the child 
   There is hardly any scope for the child to explore, investigate or question the text. The content is sacrosanct and can no way be wrong or interpreted differently by the child. Thus, the text is closed and not open to subjective interpretations 
   Little effort is made to embed learning in a social context. So, a mathematics textbook shall have operations devoid of context, a social science or science text shall sequentially unfold information 
   Gender sensitivity, mental health, life skills, peace education are key words picked up from NCF 2005 and exploited only as marketing tools 


There is a need to delve into the sociological, psychological and pedagogical impact of the text before publishing. NCF 2005 clearly emphasises the importance of a trial of books to assess the content and context validity. It states: 'It may be a good idea for the initial lessons to be piloted, ie to be taught on a trial basis, with the textbook writer observing the transaction in the class while also receiving feedback from both teacher and students. This is also important when innovating with the textbook content in order to understand and place them within the realities of the classroom and teacher preparation.' 


   The new NCERT textbooks have been a sincere effort in this regard. The textbooks are an apt example of child-centred text that is well researched. They integrate the cultural milieu of the child and encourage inquiry; draw abstracts of children's literature published by NBT, CBT, Eklavya and others; and engage children. Some efforts in this direction have also been made by private publishers, who made books skill based, integrated text thematically, incorporated relevant case studies, life skills, etc. 


   The presentation of the books is changing with some exploration projects, vivid illustrations, comic strips, stories, etc. However, by and large, the approach remains interventionist with innovation representing only an added feature. One must remember that a child doesn't need fragmented bits of information in a better layout, what he/she needs is an integrated curriculum. So, while such new textbooks seem like 'old wine in a new bottle,' the need in reality is for 'new wine' — a new text, the content that generates in a classroom in sync with the child's interest. Such a curriculum would be creative, innovative and worth teaching. 


   It is important for parents to be critically aware of child-centred text. Intelligent questioning and reading educational research is important. If parents are not well informed, then there is little scope for innovation. As consumers, it is important to create a 'demand' and the publishers will 'supply.' This is how the market forces operate and how the face of Indian education system can change. All that is needed is a happy child and the joy of learning. 


Curriculum progression: 
Evaluate the learning outcomes in the beginning and end of the book. Question whether the book provides necessary scaffold to the learner to gain competencies as conceptualised. Vertical progression also needs to be evaluated. How a concept progresses through class I, II, III and so on. Progression needs to be observed in the skills and the level of reasoning, not merely in adding new concepts. 


Relevance of text: A child needs to enjoy the immediate benefits of learning and, thus, something that is linked to the daily life. Concepts like money, weights and measures, can be understood well through examples of a market or interviewing a grocer. 


Approach: Textbooks, in general, have an informative tone. More narratives like stories and personal experiences; persuasive writing like ads and editorials; procedural writing like recipes and experiments; and transactional texts like interviews and invitations should be integrated into the textbook.



Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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