ramblings of an aimless mind

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Free textbooks for all!

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It was an annual routine when I was in school. At the beginning of school term, all children and parents would go on a high alert and stake out the nearest shops that sold the school textbooks. There were some who were fortunate enough to get some off people they knew in the classes above them, but the rest had to go stalking like a lion does a deer and for quite a while we all the same share of unsuccessful hunts. If someone got a textbook in any shop, news spread like wildfire and probably half an hour later, the status quo of everyone being out of stock was restored.

Obviously this was happening because the government had the bright idea of monitoring the number of students enrolled in different classes across the state and then ordering the exact number of textbooks so that everyone can get one for a decent price. Noble intentions, I concede, but a project of such huge magnitude that there were great chances of failure, which usually materialised.

The first signs of things improving when the internet came along was when the NCERT textbooks appeared online for people to download and use. This was a wise move by the NCERT but the state boards(except maybe the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka boards), which still set the curriculum for a majority of children in the country are lagging behind. Also, while the availability of the textbooks online may ease the burden for those who have access to the internet, those without access to a computer still have to stalk the local booksellers and hope to get lucky. I am also not sure if NCERT is willing to allow local businesses to print and sell their books, something which will not only create a faster response to the local shortages but will create more local jobs, eliminate the need to transport and in general help the environment and the local economy.

The next step in the right comes from an organisation which calls itself the FHSST or the “Free high school science texts”. I read about this movement and went exploring their website. These guys are like the linux of textbooks. they create science textbooks through a large collaborative approach. These texts are then made available in the digital format to whoever that wants to use them. It could be students who use it for classwork, local businesses who decide to print copies to fill the shortage in the market or teachers from a different place who tailor it to their own syllabus.

The FHSST movement is currently tailored to the South African syllabus, but it could be easily duplicated for the Indian education scene, as the whole effort in setting up the collaborative infrastructure has already been done and tested. It would be a good idea to make sections of the textbook as school projects, with the students in the senior classes writing for the textbooks of the junior classes. I am sure there will be students who will react with great enthusiasm, especially if they are granted some sort of recognition in terms of their names mentioned in the credits or something. It will serve the purpose of creating the textbooks as well as giving the students some experience in formal textbook writing, a skill which will be useful in their future careers. When the books are made easily available for people to freely examine, use, print and sell, they will go down the same kind of route that all the Linux has, with quality improving steadily and whole load of businesses spawning from the growing body of knowledge.

Wouldn’t that movement be a worthy accompaniment to the open source software one?


Written by clueso

October 6, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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