“A text book is a form of children’s literature which is distributed in huge numbers,” said Subir Shukla, former Advisor to the Human Resources Ministry, Government of India. Speaking on the occasion of the ‘Bhavishyavedh Karyashala’ (Looking into the Future workshop), co-organised by the Maharashtra State Educational Research and Training Conference and Balbharati, Shukla further said, “Before we design the textbooks, we need to understand the economic as well as social background of the children who will eventually read them. These textbooks help create a new generation, so they should uphold constitutional values and equality, and should be futuristic. At the same time they should be enjoyable and entertaining.”
Around 250 teachers from different parts of the state, belonging to the Maharashtra Textbook Development Association, lecturers and subject experts, participated in this residential workshop held at Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune, from 21 to 23 July. Experts like Subir Shukla, former Advisor for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and Right to Education programme of the Government of India, Surendra Prasad, Coordinator of IGNUS and creator of numerous libraries in Madhya Pradesh through people’s participation, Tushar Pandhre of IGNUS and Eklavya, and Dhanvanti Hardikar of Balbharati attended the workshop and offered guidance to the participants.
Subir Shukla interacted with the various subject teachers on all three days. In place of speeches, there was an emphasis on discussion, question-answer sessions, games, and practical presentations. He said that the syllabus should ignite children’s curiosity. A textbook should not be simply a container for answers but a book that sets off the thoughts, imagination and inquisitiveness of the learner. He said as members of the text book development board, it was the responsibility of participants to create textbooks that help children look at their surroundings with open eyes, to create questions to which the answers were not to be found merely by referring to guides or notes. It was important to make a comparative study of the syllabi and textbooks of other countries as well.
During the workshop Subir Shukla gave examples from the syllabi in other states. One example was the attractive and colourful Environmental Science textbook in Kerala, in which the questions at the end of each chapter encourage learners to look at their surroundings – for instance, “Name four birds that are not crow, sparrow or pigeon, but can be seen in your neighbourhood.” Each child is expected to have a “nature observation” book in which to jot down notes about trees, animals, birds, insects and their behavior. Students live in different neighbourhoods, and so they cannot ‘copy’ the answers from one another. He said, “We must get rid of this notion that children don’t know anything. Often, children living in rural or adivasi areas know more about the trees, birds, medicinal plants etc than their teachers! We have to respect this inherent knowledge. Let us not try to teach them each and every thing, but instead act as guides in their pursuit of knowledge.”
“Let go of the traditional ways of teaching. Think of how two or more subjects could be related to each other and taught together when you design the textbooks. Everyday things may be used to introduce concepts. Words and their opposites, parallel lines, distance, density these are some of concepts that may be taught with just the help of a notebook. By holding the book in your hand you can show it is ‘above’ the ground but ‘below’ the ceiling. And if the learners can explain how the lines in the notebook are parallel to each other, then you know that their concept of parallel lines is very clear!”
“It is extremely crucial to be aware of the kind of examples that we use while explaining. A teacher who says, “Look how courageous she is in spite of being a girl!’ will send a wrong message to the children. We cannot expect the children to understand and appreciate the concept of equality unless we lead by example; it should reflect in our behavior. The textbooks must not simply repeat old and tired phrases such as ‘Respect your elders’. Rather, the student should learn that as human beings, it is important to stand up to injustice based on caste or gender, even when it is being done by those very ‘elders’.”
Shukla also reiterated the importance of appropriate drawings, charts and diagrams in the textbooks. “All teams involved in bringing out the textbooks should read the book and evaluate it critically and objectively before sending it for publication. Equally important is to accept this evaluation in the right spirit, keeping in mind that its objective is to make the book as accurate as possible, as these books would play an important role in shaping our children’s future. Any mistake in it would cost us dearly.”
We look forward to seeing the textbooks of the future, incorporating the suggestions made by Subir Shukla and his team.
Blog & photos: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team