Digital-only is not the solution for either textbooks or examinations

Educational reforms require considered choices and professional execution

school textbook publishing
Schools that were supposed to open on 1 July 2020 remain closed and students are studying from home

News flashes on the front page of the Times of India that as the new school year entered its fourth week, the National Council of Educational Research and Training’s (NCERT) books were in extremely short supply. Of the total print order of more than 69.39 million (6.94 crore) books, apparently only 16.6 million (1.66 crore) books have been received by NCERT till the filing of the news report by Manash Gohain on 20 April 2019.

A large number of the required textbooks are neither printed nor available. Based on documents seen by the newspaper, of the 238 textbook titles to be produced, only 135 have been printed and these too in short quantities. While NCERT is keen to change and rationalize the syllabus with changes and QR code links to the internet for related course material, it has been compelled to distribute older books from inventory. The crisis is most dire in the class VI to XII textbooks with many titles not having been printed at all.

The TOI story quotes a former head of NCERT’s publication division who says, “Apart from delay in procurement of paper, I have read that books are being revised, which could also have delayed the printing. Earlier, we used to prioritize printing books for board exam students.”

Educational outcomes as described in the recently released Aser report are declining even as the employability of both school and college graduates decline. Political battles are being waged daily in the financial press on the lack of jobs being created in the economy as if the only reality is to denigrate one political regime or the other.

For the large mass of ordinary graduates, the definition of a job still means employment by government and the public sector. For these jobs (as well as entrance exams to professional educational institutions) there are a huge number of exams that need to be given securely and evaluated. The exam-based employment process is also running three years behind in some cases.

The government is keen to centralize and transparently conduct all national entrance and public employment exams. In November 2017, it established the National Testing Agency with its headquarters in Noida, to do just this. However, the immense backlog of examinations and incomplete evaluations combined with severe budget constraints and political considerations has led to a paucity of actual jobs being given. .

This is a complex problem and while one approach is to completely outsource this process to companies that will conduct online examinations and also complete the evaluation process, the infrastructure for this online effort is still not strong enough across the country. It is not advisable to simply turn every Internet cafe into an examination centre if one is to strengthen the integrity of the system. In addition to online examinations, the educational, testing and employment professionals and bureaucrats need to continue conventional analog examination systems as well as digitally printed secure and randomized exam systems that are available.

The education sector is not ready to move completely into the cloud just as the economy is not ready to move into a cashless society. Let’s not do away completely with paper and print but instead make documents and exams more intelligent with technology. Multiple choice and multiple channels – analog, digital and mixed, are the way forward.

The education professionals need to make up their mind about what outcomes they can realistically deliver. Change requires courage and thorough fool-proof execution with integrity. Needless to say, printers are large stakeholders in the educational system and they need to get their act together and speak out to education ministries in the centre and in the states.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.


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