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Ten reasons why text book content design must change

By G. Balasubramanian

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon “said the famous author E.M. Forster. Unfortunately, most of our textbooks, immaterial of the sector they serve have adopted the culture of spoon feeding the information. There are several reasons for the same. But if one closely examines whether the design of textbooks have really contributed to pathbreaking methods to facilitate our learners, it is indeed a question mark. While several people might advocate to justify their designs and while I do acknowledge there have been some limited efforts to progress in this area, the larger universe of text books have not really responded to challenges of the existing and futuristic needs of learning.

Some reasons that can be attributed:

1. Market forces determine the design and quality of the text books.

2. Teachers offer resistance to new designs if the books don’t support their customary delivery systems and reduce their workload, relieving them from the exercises of imagination.

3. Focus is on adhering to the text of the syllabus rather than the themes notified in the syllabus

4. A lot of time, energy and investment might be required for developing new models.

5. There is no professionalism in marketing of the content; there is focus only on the textbooks as a marketing product.

In this background I would like to highlight the following ten issues with the current designs with the hope there would some rethinking on this issue sooner or later, especially in the context of NEP suggesting to all agencies that there is need to review the existing design,


In most cases, the narratives in the text books follow the letter of the syllabi and the curriculum, rather than the spirit of it. Hence narratives adhere to facts, opinions and reinforcement of the established views rather than provoking thinking. The narratives look more authoritarian deliveries of packages of information rather than authentic deliberations that would invite unbiased consideration of the insights. They appear more like a documentary than a creative exercise, more like a bland diet with inadequacy of spices to make learning more delicate and delicious. Very often the repetition of the content from earlier editions to a newer edition without application of mind, without examining the relevance of context make them out of place.


Over the years, there is increased tendency to stuff more and more data into the print to increase the volume of the textbooks to impress the learners as if they have a greater value. Such loads of information in the form of data are largely ignored by the learners as they don’t carry any direct value for the kind of learning and assessment system they have in place. Such data call for pedagogical analytics in the classrooms as a joint collaborative exercise by the teacher and the learner if at all they have to make an impact on the thought architecture of the learners. Hence, they have more a market perspective rather than any significant pedagogical perspective in the absence of time and opportunity for deliberations.


Treatment of the content in a number of textbooks is largely linear and follows a flow-chart pattern without any inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural thought provocations, thereby encouraging their acceptance value than the deliberation value. While the policies of the Government call for integrated, inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary learning approaches, the design of the textual content from most sources including those of the government institutions do not address to these vital needs. The content writing group needs to have elaborate and intense discussion not only on the flow of the content but develop intrinsic insights into the pedagogy to be put in place.


It is said that learning is not linear. With a validated constructivist approach to the process of learning being suggested globally, the textual inputs do not subscribe to any efforts for the construction of knowledge. With technology becoming a powerful integrator to content delivery, there is a huge opportunity to promote construction of knowledge both individually and collectively. With increasing informal tool to facilitate social constructivism of knowledge to enhance their acceptance, relevance and democratic value, there is evidence of a huge mismatch between the formal tools of learning and the informal tools of learning, which the content developers need to take note of. This would be possible only when the designs would move towards thematic considerations rather than subscribing to the demands of the words enlisted in a document enshrined as syllabi.


With the focus on meeting the needs of examination systems, the content writers tend to provide power-packed words that would be value points pleasing the evaluators, rather than ideas or concepts that would relate to and facilitate reflection into social and environmental concerns related to the concept under consideration. Theories on social constructivism demand consideration of ideas and concepts to a larger humanistic need than as a piece of information that would fetch validation for a job opportunity. It is important to note that such interventions should help in enhancing the social consciousness of the learners and to have a better purposeful approach to a holistic living.


The objective of any learning is to experience the joy of learning which would catalyse or trigger the curiosity for further learning. Hence, the content in the print material or on e-media should not be a staple diet, which would deprive that joy. Be it poetry, play, adventure, thriller, memoir or any narrative it has its own clientele who have an aptitude for such writings. Hence, any type of input should house in its soul the elements required to fire the intent for future learning or extended learning. In case of textual material, there is a huge opportunity for case studies, anecdotes, historical or social perspectives, experiences or events from the lives of great men which relate to the topic concerned, to be included as a part of the reading inputs which can meet such requirements. The content writers need to do enough research about the topics to include such beneficial references.


A large number of text books are flooded with words and lack any visual, auditory or other sensory inputs as associates. Hence, the learning becomes taxing, painful, uneventful and challenging. It is important to make the text content broad- based and provide inputs which gravitate several sensory experiences to meet the requirements of both cognition and emotion. Further, such inputs should not be intended to fill in pages to increase the volume, but should bear intellectual gravity so that the learner could relate, make meanings or use them for effective analysis of the concepts in the context of such references. This will also re-engineer the modus operandi of the content development to make them more inclusive and integrated.


The outcome of any learning process should help the learner in meeting the routine challenges effectively and gain the ability to engage with problems with confidence and conviction. Seeking solutions to problems in the context of learning should become a routine course of learning or cultural evolution of an evolving mind. The design of current text books hardly gives any opportunity to expose the learner to problem solving sills both in context as well as in the outer framework of the cognitive experience. Typical modular illustrations that would underscore the types of problems that might creep in or need to be addressed both in the current context and in the light of the futuristic needs.


In the descriptive of the new NEP, it has been advised that the text books should focus on core concerns and values of the theme; it should be left to the teachers to position their framework in the classroom appropriately and encourage discussions, debates and brain-storming. Contextual discussions on themes among the peers facilitate their relevance and help the learners to develop a positive and persuasive attitude towards such issues. In the long run, such contextual discussions in classrooms boost holistic learning by allowing the learners to take 360-degree view of the problems. The content writers need to provide scope and opportunities for such in-text interventions for learning.


A large part of the textual content focus on the cognitive aspects of the content and keep away from any reference to the relevant skills associated with such content. The fact that the syllabus for a subject also does not make any reference to the appropriate skills of the content, restrains the content developers to go beyond the defined territories. Hence, texts do not reflect any case studies with reference to the concerned topic. It is important that content writers should envisage the scope for skill acquisition through experiential inputs, taking care that such skills are not exclusively cognitive but do address to other types of skills also.

Though, the content development and text writing have been debated on many platforms especially in the publishing domain, meaningful and focused efforts that would really bring about a transformation to meet the emerging concerns and futuristic needs have not been taken. The strategies for Leadership in this area needs to be reviewed and re-engineered.