NCERT in news again: Delays in printing textbooks, and future plans

Come the new academic year, the National Council of Educational Research Training (NCERT), an autonomous organisation set up in 1961 by the Government of India to assist and advise the Central and State Governments on policies and programmes for qualitative improvement in school education, is back in new again. As again, the organisation delayed distributing new textbooks among school children. While it said the situation is under control, there are a lot of developments happening at the NCERT.

24 Dec 2019 | By PrintWeek Team

‘Students shouldn’t be forced to buy non-NCERT books’

In a recent development, to facilitate affordable and quality education, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has asked the state education department and the education board to ensure that children are not forced to carry books other than those published or prescribed by the National Council of Educational Research Training (NCERT).

The commission, monitoring authority for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act, observed that some schools were discriminating against children for carrying NCERT books, forcing them to buy other books in the name of “additional syllabus” or “value addition”.

According to a new report publishing in The Hindustan Times on 20 May 20 2019, a member of the commission, Preeti Verma, said the child rights panel had received complaints that some children studying in private schools, under the RTE Act, were harassed for carrying NCERT books and for being unable to afford books prescribed by the schools. She said that in some instances, children were forced to purchase non-NCERT or Non-SCERT books from schools or particular shops.

Now, in a letter to the state, the NCPCR has underscored the fact that the State Council of Educational Research Training (SCERT) is the academic authority.

The national child rights body has also directed schools to display the necessary directions on their websites and notice boards.

Under the RTE Act, children are supposed to get free books and uniforms.

Printing delay of NCERT books  

Meanwhile, according to a report publishing in The Times of India on 21 April 2019, four weeks after the beginning of the new academic session 2019-20, crores of students, especially those who are in class X and XII, are still waiting for textbooks. According to the report, the delay resulted from slow printing and distribution of textbooks by the NCERT.

NCERT is supposed to print around six crore textbooks for the new session. Though the complete print run should have been ready for distribution by 15 March, the council managed to receive only 25% of printed books in its warehouse by the time.

The report said printing of 88% of Class X mathematics books was pending in the first week of April 2019. Similarly, not a single copy of Class XII accountancy II and III textbooks was printed. Likewise, NCERT received only 10% to 15% of Class XII physics I and II textbooks from the warehouse till the first week of April.

Again, according to news reports, the new textbooks have undergone drastic changes this time. Due to rationalisation in syllabi, many chapters in the textbooks have been deleted and several changes made in chapters. For the first time, NCERT has introduced quick response (QR) codes in all its textbooks that will enable students to access related course material online. But due to slow printing, NCERT is now distributing old textbooks with old syllabi in the market to fill the gap. The distribution of old textbooks will compound the problem as students of the same class will study with different textbooks, resulting in confusion.

NCERT promises to step up

A few days later, a news report in The Hindu Businessline on 24 April 2019 quoted bookshop owners saying that unavailability of the textbooks, especially of Mathematics, will get resolved in a month.

“I have been in this profession for the past three decades, and every year during the start of the academic session there is a book shortage problem. However, once the summer vacation starts and fresh supply comes in, the crisis ends,” the newspaper quoted Sunil Gupta, who runs a bookstore in Adchini in Delhi.

Gupta said this time there is a rise in demand for NCERT textbooks from private schools too.

The report quoted another bookshop owner from East Azad Nagar in Delhi saying, “The shortaged may be because NCERT was probably late to start the printing. However, the scarcity will end in a month.”

The newspaper also quoted an official in the publication division of NCERT saying that there is no such shortage as books are also being delivered continuously in its four regional production-cum-distribution centres.

The department has regional production-cum- distribution centres, one each in Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Guwahati. Amid the ongoing issue, NCERT issued a statement noting that it has taken necessary steps to ensure availability of textbooks across the country for the academic session 2019-20.

NCERT gets notice for not following CISCE curriculum

In a recent development, miffed over the fact that the National Council for Educational Research and Training is “reviewing” the curriculum followed by the Council for Indian School Certificates Examinations (CISCE), instead of asking it to follow its syllabi, India’s apex child rights body has slapped a second notice on it.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had earlier questioned the NCERT and the CISCE, the country’s largest private education board, for following separate curricula from classes I to VIII in violation of the provisions of the Right to Education Act, 2009.

In a report published in The New Indian Express on 21 May 2019, the Commission had sought an explanation from the CISCE, as part of its exercise to “pursue violation of Section 29 of the RTE Act by private unaided schools affiliated to different boards by prescribing different curriculum, including evaluation procedure and books other than those laid down by the NCERT.”

In response, the CISCE said its curricula for pre-school to Class VIII were developed by a team of “experts” comprising personnel from the NCERT. Following this, an explanation was sought from the NCERT as to why the Council had legitimised adoption of a separate syllabus, replying to which the NCERT said it was “reviewing” the syllabi followed by the CISCE.

“Overlooking the issue highlighted by the Commission, NCERT initiated the exercise of reviewing the syllabus of CISCE, specifically for elementary classes. This exercise by NCERT validates the actions of CISCE of framing a separate curriculum,” NCPCR has written in the latest notice.

NCERT to review 2005 curriculum guidelines

Amidst all these, NCERT has undertaken its biggest exercise in school education reforms — a review of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF).

A report published in The Times of India on 18 May quoted Hrushikesh Senapaty, director, NCERT that the preliminary work on the review of the last NCF, published in 2005, has begun and the committee to undertake the task will be formed shortly.

The NCF provides the framework for creation of the school syllabi and the writing of textbooks, while giving guidelines on teaching practices in India. Of the four NCFs released in 1975, 1988, 2000 and 2005, the last removed the focus from teachers to students to ensure ‘learning without burden’.

To further that objective, there has been a continuing process in recent years of rationalising books and subject matter. “The work we have done on rationalisation of textbooks will form the basis of the review of the 2005 NCF,” Senapaty told the newspaper. “Society needs a change and our focus will, therefore, be on experiential learning. This will further take forward the shift of focus of 15 years ago from teachers to the student to promote learning without burden and to change the tendency to learning by rote.”

According to government sources, the exercise will be officially announced after the results of the general elections and the committee will be put in place soon. “As part of the 2018 rationalisation of textbooks, 72,000 stakeholders, among them students, teachers, parents, intellectuals and members of civil society, gave us over one lakh suggestions,” Senapaty revealed. “These were critically analysed and will form the foundation of the forthcoming deliberations on a fresh NCF. It will be a yearlong process.”

In keeping with the reforms, NCERT is also planning a mammoth training programme for 42 lakh government elementary school teachers by December 2019. The council had already conducted a pilot run in Tripura, where it trained 31,000 teachers over three-four months with the help of 284 key resource persons.

The exercise in 2005 was undertaken by a committee headed by Professor Yashpal, former chairperson of University Grants Commission. That document took into consideration the government reports on education that encouraged making learning a joyful experience. Other paradigms were the National Policy of Education 1986-1992 and the recommendations in the position papers of the 21 National Focus Groups, each tasked with producing a research-based paper providing a comprehensive review of existing knowledge and the field reality, especially in rural schools.