Even in this glorified era of ‘Digital India’ and Kerala being announced as the ‘First Digital State’in the country,the ‘young India’, our children, have to be too much dependent on textbooks, as the textbooks still enjoy an irreplaceable role in our curriculum. Most of the times, the State owes its responsibility for preparation of the content of the textbooks, especially for the lower age groups. The justification being cited is the need for the democratic inclusiveness of the various stakeholders of the society by upholding the constitutional principles. Though the State has played a significant role in reviewing and revising the curriculum and content of the textbooks, many times it is embraced by the political controversies around the processes. The interests and expertise of the committee members and the key authors are doubted at times. Once the content is finalised, the State using its machinery tries to print and distribute the textbooks to the students on time. This has been the norm in the Kerala education sector for many decades.
The recent ‘textbook crisis’ was indeed a blotch on Kerala which has once topped in the Education Development Index (2006-07). The failure of the state-run Kerala Book Publishing Society (KBPS) in its mandate to print the textbooks on time is a recurring news headline at the beginning of the Academic year. KBPS engage in activities such as printing smart cards, textbooks and lottery tickets. KBPS was founded in 1976 with the purpose of printing and distributing textbooks and government publications at an affordable price. KBPS now enjoys the monopoly on printing and publishing textbooks affiliated to the Kerala State Board. KBPS is headed by a managing director, and this post wasvacant for several years until September 2015 when a senior bureaucrat was appointed to the position.
The delay in textbook printing has been a headache for the ruling party in every year and the opposition seizes this moment every year. This year, in order to overcome the shortage, a short tender was announced by the Government of Kerala so as to get the assistance from the private printers. The opposition alleged foul play by the education department for helping the private players getting into the foray by delaying the issuing of required raw materials. The Government usually places the order for textbooks several months before the commencement of the academic year, so that the textbooks are available promptly. However, for this academic year that started in June 2015 KBPS received the orders in November 2014 which they were unable to print and distribute even in September 2015. KBPS kept giving deadlines which it could not meet. KBPS cited various operational inadequacies; this adversely affected none other than the lakhs of students in Kerala. The government tweaked in an interim plan of giving the bulk of the printing works to government owned printers; this was hit by a snag when these printers fell short of ink and paper. Several examinations were deferred for this reason. What ensued this was a political blame game which muddled the Kerala political environment. Kerala witnessed several agitations and protests by opposition parties and student organizations.
Now, many urge, what needs to be addressed is the inefficiency which has crept into KBPS. KBPS did not have proper leadership in the higher echelons to guide them operationally and financially; it was functioning without a managing director and finance controller for several yearsakin to a sinking ship without a captain. Recruitments to these positions are strongly influenced by political lobbying. Moreover, a majority of the bone of contention is whether KBPS can nullify the demand –supply gap which has risen out of its technological backwardness and poor operations management.
We haven’t heard about CBSE or ICSE students facing these predicaments, what is done better there? There is no shame in mocking models which are better and successful. Now, our government needs to contemplate on revamping the entire process of printing and distributing text books attached to Kerala state board. The question that needs to be answered here is; why should we insist on a Government run body alone responsible for textbook printing. The models across the world are fascinating to explore them. The contentious issue in most of the cases is that of the content of the textbook rather than the printing as it is reported from Kerala. On the content side, the debate revolves around what is the standardisation plus centralisation of the examination systems adopted and accepted by the state. If the evaluation is highly based on the final term examination, one tends to align the content of the textbooks with the examination pattern practised. If not, the market could respond to the situations by printing textbooks as and when it is required and the way it is demanded. Another way for the state is to announce the broader topics as in the forms of handbooks enabling the market to respond to the syllabus set by the state accordingly. This could help the private print players to innovate on the style, quality of the print and the distribution channels; textbooks having the same content could be priced according to the paper, ink and color used meeting demands of different types of customer layers.The Government could procure the textbooks printed by private parties and distribute the books through their channels. Alternatively, the government can issue vouchers to the students in exchange of purchase of books from the market.
Can anyone remember reading a textbook that made the subject exciting? If the student perceives the textbooks are boring and content-lite, it is because the poor standards set by the government press. As a thumb rule, the government subsidises the textbook printing. However, in the most of the cases, textbook publishing overhead, the cost for book distribution, salary costs, rentals of the godowns, routine operating costs, etc could not be calculated easily. The inefficiency of the state-run printing process could be exorbitant, so much so that the state wastes it resources that otherwise could have been used for the scholarship for the needy students.
An outright decision of outsourcing might turn out to be futile in the Kerala context, even though that is the best possible solution to come out of this deep necked problem. Outsourcing will ensure adoption of fast paced technologies and better operational practices which eventually results in the objectives being met. Reliability and quality of the private printers could be easily assessed and could be shared with the public efficiently. Knowing Kerala’s socio-political background, a phased manner of moving towards outsourcing will be of the best interest of the state.
 D. Dhanuraj is the Chairman of CPPR
 Deepthi is Research Associate at CPPR
This article is a reproduced version of the original article which was published in Pallikkuttam; a Rajagiri Educational Magazine. Views of the authors expressed are personal.