Perhaps most of us remember the days we lumbered down potholed roads, a satchel-full of voluminous books on our backs, cursing our teachers for the heavy burden on our puny, pre-adolescent shoulders. Of course, it would have helped immensely if there were lockers in our schools. Since there were none, we were compelled to ferry a pile of heavy textbooks and accompanying tad lighter exercise books, to and fro from school, every single day. Although many more private schools have proper lockers these days, the burdens on average private school goers only seem to be increasing. These days a typical grade one student in a private school carries an average of 10 books—the syllabus prescribes around 15—to school every day. This is not just a question of the potential harm caused by heavy bags on children’s healthy growth. The more serious harm may be mental.
According to child psychologists, burdening a grade one student with 15 books is not just sheer injustice, but also counterproductive. A better way to ensure proper learning, they believe, is to concentrate students’ attention on fewer subjects, which makes it easier for them to learn new things. But you don’t need a psychologist to tell you that the laundry list of prescribed course books has more to do with ensuring profits for schools than improving students’ academic prowess. The commissions that accrue from prescribing a large number of books pervert the true goal of schools, which is to educate children. Besides the schools, book dealers and publishers also get a cut of the profit from increased sales. The morphing of our educationists into money-minded entrepreneurs has had an adverse impact on young minds, and led to the publication of all kinds of unnecessary and sub-par textbooks.
The Curriculum Development Center (CDC) under the Ministry of Education is tasked with preparing and amending school textbooks. Its other important duty is to check if the course books prescribed in private schools comply with government-approved curriculum. But surprisingly, rather than monitoring for (and punishing) the publishers who have not had their books approved by CDC, the officials at the center look on helpless, impotent to punish the law-bending publishers. This is the result, a whopping 60 percent of all books prescribed by private schools have not been approved by CDC. But if CDC is not authorized (as its officials claim) to monitor the book market, who is? Apparently, no one. At present, there is no proper government policy to monitor and regulate the textbook trade.
If anything, more and more private schools are trying to justify the over-prescription with dubious psychological arguments like more books equals more intelligence. The problem is that there are way too many loopholes in our legal mechanism that allow the unscrupulous triumvirate of school operators, book sellers and publishers to ply their ‘education business’. Unless these loopholes are urgently closed, unsuspecting children will continue to be burdened with unnecessary extra-work and the country will risk no less than its future which is firmly pinned on today’s very young school goers