Trash the Textbook Bureau

Trash the Textbook Bureau

Aditi Kavarana & H B Soumya
Administrators and associations

The New Delhi government/ administration has an unending list of departments, autonomous organisations, directorates, and councils and various other government bodies. One wonders why the governance of a tiny state like Delhi is so complicated and intricate to require this enormous number of offices and officials. Of course, complimentary to it, is this convoluted system of checks and balances with levels of hierarchy (or lack of them); responsibility and autonomy; government funding and self generation; that has been contrived to keep it all in "order". One explanation for this clutter of organisations is that there seems to be a set formula for solving all problems that come up: set up an advisory board or inquiry committee, wait for the recommendations, and create an association/ organisation to carry them out. Quite often, there may be much simpler and more direct solutions to problems, but these are either ignored or never considered. A very good example of this is the Delhi Textbook Bureau.

Education is a state subject. Every state must develop it's own syllabus which is done by a state curriculum committee. In Delhi, however, such a committee has not yet been formed, and hence National Council for Education, Research, and Training (NCERT) books are adapted and printed to meet our needs. This task of printing is carried out both by the NCERT and the Delhi Textbook Bureau (DTB). The Bureau was set up in May, 1970 under the Societies Act as an autonomous government body supervised by the Directorate of Education, Delhi. It’s stated aims were "to aid and promote the advancement of primary and secondary education by producing high quality textbooks and other material; to print, publish, stock and distribute textbooks; and evaluate and conduct research for improvement of curricula, books, and other material."

The DTB has a copyright over NCERT textbooks, which it reprints in Hindi. These books are then sold to all government and government aided schools: namely Sarvodaya Vidyalayas, MCD schools, government secondary and senior secondary schools, Kendriya Vidyalayas and government aided schools. Such schools must necessarily use textbooks prescribed by the Directorate of Education. The DTB's method of distributing books is two pronged: textbooks for MCD schools, Sarvodaya Vidyalayas, and government secondary schools are bought by the MCD and Directorate of Education respectively, and then distributed to students free of cost. For them, the DTB prints textbooks on an order basis. However, for government aided and government senior secondary schools, students must buy textbooks, which are distributed by the DTB through a network of 8 wholesale and 22 retail dealers.

A lot of aims, but achievements?

One of the stated aims of the DTB is the "evaluation and research for improvement of curricula and books." However, till date, no evidence has been seen of any "improvement of books" undertaken by the DTB. In fact, any enhancement or innovation shown in the field of textbook printing has been by private publishers such as Orient Longman, Macmillan, and Frank Brothers. Private schools, which have the freedom to choose textbooks for use in their classrooms until class VIII, opt for books published by the private publishers instead. This is a clear indicator of the poor quality of DTB textbooks. As regards improvement of curricula, the DTB couldn't possibly take any steps in this regard, since changes in curricula falls under the purview of the Directorate of Education, and not the DTB.

The other two aims of the DTB relate to the printing and publishing of textbooks. Two points can be made in this regard: first, the printing of textbooks could in no way be thought of as an essential activity, or core area, where the presence of a government body is justifiable. Second, a government agency already works in this field: namely the NCERT. It also prints and publishes school textbooks as prescribed by the Directorate of Education in English and Hindi. Its presence renders the DTB completely redundant and superfluous.

Of pricing and profits

The main stance of all DTB officials is that although they are simply reproducing NCERT textbooks, their contribution to education in Delhi lies in the fact that they print the same textbooks at much lower prices. Since they provide textbooks to students of government and government aided schools, where the students are from the poorer sections of society, there is a need for producing books at more affordable prices.

There is no argument against the fact that they do indeed produce books at a considerably lower price than the NCERT. A few examples of this are Bal Bharati: a textbook for class V, it is sold by the NCERT for Rs. 25, while the DTB sells it for Rs. 15; Prachin Bharat for students of class VI is sold by the NCERT for Rs. 23, and for Rs. 12 by the DTB; and Aadhunik Bharat, which is sold by the NCERT for Rs. 25, and by the DTB for Rs. 15.

However, the amazing aspect of this is that despite printing at such low rates, the DTB is still able to make a profit. It must be confessed that the actual amount of profits earned by the DTB was not revealed to us. However, one can make an educated guess based on the following facts. The DTB engages itself in certain welfare activities which it finances out of it's own profits. It distributes 5 sets of books to deserving students of classes VI-VIII and school bags to all students of government and government aided schools: in 2000-2001, it distributed 2.5 lakh books totally costing Rs. 12 lakh. Besides, it distributed 1 lakh such bags, each costing Rs. 60, bringing the total amount to Rs. 60 lakh. The Managing Director of the DTB, Mr. Jain claimed that the total amount spent on welfare activities was Rs. 75 lakh, so we may use this amount as a proxy for the amount of profits accruing to the DTB.

Obviously, the question that arises is how the DTB is able to make such large profits if they sell books at considerably lower prices. The answer lies in the fact that although the DTB sells books at a lower price, it also has lower costs, since when it buys paper, it is exempt from paying the excise tax on paper. Considering the fact that the current rate of excise is 16%, so the effective price of paper is significantly less for the DTB.

But, the simple economic truth that the DTB hasn’t grasped is that an excise exemption is an effective subsidy, and profits derived from a subsidy are not profits: since, ultimately some arm of the government is paying the price of such a subsidy.

The solution: textbook vouchers

The above account can be summed up as follows: the government feels the need for cheaper textbooks for the poorer students; in order to provide these, it sets up a new organisation: namely the DTB; further, to enable them to print these cheaper textbooks, it gives the DTB a subsidy in the form of an excise exemption. If, however the ultimate aim of the government is simply to make textbooks cheaper for the poor people, there are many much simpler ways to do this.

The government could allow schools to get the direct benefit of such a subsidy by distributing textbook vouchers to the various schools. This voucher could be a discount slip, which would enable schools to buy books at a lower price: lower by the amount of the slip. If schools must spend a lower part of their budget on textbooks, the relative cost of textbooks is reduced. Hence the effect achieved is the same as that gained by printing cheaper books.

Such a scheme scores over the present system in a number of ways. The first and quite obvious advantage is that it completely removes the bureaucracy, which translates into elimination of a large amount of red-tapism, inefficiency, and corruption. Secondly, it brings the market into play, by empowering the consumers directly, which in turn increases the efficiency of the marketplace. In this case when we speak of consumers, we mean the schools and not the students, since the ultimate choice of which textbooks are to be used lies with the schools.

Since the schools would have the power of choice, they would choose textbooks that were most apt and best suited to their teaching style. Different schools would rate textbooks differently depending on what attributes they would value higher than others. A lot of variables would come into play in a situation like this such as content of textbooks; clarity; style of writing or language used; presentation; the number of illustrations, boxes, diagrams etc. Another important variable would be how up to date and recent are the statistics and figures presented. The important thing here is that schools: even government and government aided schools would have the freedom to choose which textbooks they would like to use, and they would be able to still provide them to students at affordable prices.

Such a system would be quite effective in curbing the spread of propaganda through textbooks. If there is competition in the market for textbooks, instead of a monopoly by the government, producers would be anxious to produce books that would appeal to maximum number of schools, i.e. the entire education system. They would certainly not wish to alienate any part of the market by printing material that would anger them. Furthermore, even if books would happen to print such propaganda, schools which do not agree with the viewpoints and postulates of the book could simply change tastes, and switch to another textbook.

A voucher system would be more cost effective too since it would eliminate all costs of running an organisation: administrative costs, salary of employees, land costs, and various miscellaneous costs that crop up on a day-to-day basis. Furthermore, it would give people the power to choose and hence would be more democratic. And, such power in the hands of the final consumers would guarantee that only those books that are most demanded and truly considered to be a contribution are produced, so weeding out waste and inefficient use of resources.

We have already witnessed the closing down of 52 public sector units since they are inefficient and are only a waste of resources. There is a definite need to carry out a similar operation on government departments and bureaux, and the Delhi Textbook Bureau is a perfect place to start.

Sources

  • Directory of Delhi Textbook Bureau, January 1997
  • Jain, Managing Director, Delhi Textbook Bureau
  • Nautiyal, Secretary, Delhi Textbook Bureau
  • Gyanendra Srivastava, Director, Directorate of Education, Delhi
  • Deepa Raghavan, Headmistress, DPS, R K Puram
  • Aliamma Mathai, Principal, Kerala School
  • Bhargava, Wholesale Paper Dealer