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EDITORIAL: The Text Books Riddle

It is a classic case of a system gone hay wire, where the only language understood and acceptable is money-hard cash-or else how does one give a credible explanation for the shortage of text books prescribed by the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur year after year. The system itself may be flawed but more than the system, which involves awarding the publishing rights to private publishing firms on contract basis, it is the language, read money, which opens doors and has a direct impact on the production, quality and availability of text books.

The beginning of a fresh academic session has always been a matter of grave concern for the parents, the students and of course the school authorities, not because their children or ward will be joining a higher class, but because the question of the availability of text books refuses to go away, year after year. This year has been no different with student organizations coming to the fore and raising a number of uncomfortable questions before the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur as well as the State Government.

For those in the media and those in the business of publishing, the memory of the members of the House coming out and conducting a physical verification of the availability of text books in  the major book stores of Imphal must still be fresh in their mind, though it has been a good eight or nine years ago. The decision to conduct the personal inspection was taken during an Assembly session, when the SPF Government had just come to power, and the Opposition led by the vocal and articulate O Joy of the MPP raised a storm over the non-availability of text books.

The late Z Mangaibou was the SCERT Minister at that point of time and not surprisingly, he was the main target of the Opposition. Things have not changed much since that day members of the House went in a group to check the bookstores in Imphal and the subsequent years witnessed a similar pattern, with the BSEM playing favorites while awarding the contract works as well as while distributing the text books to the dealers. This had caused an uproar, forcing a number of student organizations to raise their voice of protest and demand greater transparency in the whole deal. The question, why publishing firms of international repute such as McMillan, Oxford, Penguin, have kept away from the race of bidding for the right to publish the prescribed school text books does not need any elaborate explanation.

There was a time when students studying in Manipur had text books published and printed by the said publishing firms but gradually they have disappeared from the scene. This development is not a bad thing for the local publishers, as it means saving money as well providing job opportunities to a number of people. However, no one has openly questioned why these firms left the scene without much ado. As we have noted, there is no need for an elaborate explanation, but suffice it to say that the very factor which drove away these firms is presently playing the Joker of the Batman film franchise with the task of making the text books available to the students on time. Why this shortage of text book is witnessed each year without fail?  Have no corrective measures been taken up?

There are reasons why the slogan “Quality Education” was raised by student organizations and not the School Education Department or anyone remotely connected with education. This slogan was raised because there was the crying need to uphaul the education system in the State as well as to clean the cupboard of the Education Department, apart from making those in responsible positions, answerable to the people, particularly the student community. Unfortunately neither the Board nor the Education Department nor anyone having something to do with education including the Government school teachers, have come to terms with the real meaning of the slogan and have failed to understand why there was the need to raise such a slogan in the first place.

Instead of stirring the conscience of the people who matter, this slogan was reduced to something of a fashion statement by the politicians, the wanna be politicians and their side kicks and by numerous organizations, which cannot tell a Kwality from a Quality. True the BSEM is not the only entity which has failed to deliver the books on time, as even NCERT text books cannot be published in one go to meet the demand of the students, but BSEM cannot escape the responsibility of creating a system, where text books are made available to the students, after 45 or 60 days of the new academic session starting. Top this up with the annual affair and we have the perfect set up to create unrest and anxiety amongst the parents and guardians of young students.

Maybe, it is time to overhaul the whole system of publishing the text books. Maybe, the wings of the BSEM may be clipped to a certain extent that it gets no chance to indulge in its favorite game, which in the first place drove away so many reputed publishers from outside the State. Maybe the Government may experiment with the idea of setting up a council which deals solely with the business of publishing text books. The council may be constituted along the line of the Rajya Sabha, where one fifth of its members relinquish their seat after a term, and a fresh crop of members are elected or nominated to fill up the vacancies.

But here again, we can imagine the situation that will surely arise if the Government decides to adopt this line, especially at the time when it has to nominate the members to the proposed council. The task is at the same time simple and complex, simple because making text books available to the students on time does not need rocket science technology and complex because there is no foolproof device in the world to check corruption or as they put it, “Greasing the Palm.”

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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