Should NCERT books mean endless cramming?

March 21st, 2010 - 2:05 pm ICT by IANS  

By Ranjana Narayan
New Delhi, March 21 (IANS) ” ‘Ratta’, ‘ratta’, cram, cram… that is what our examinations are about,” is the frustrated echo of many youngserters taking their school leaving Class 12 examinations this year, as they flip anxiously through dry tomes on science, commerce and arts subjects trying to memorise endless passages and formulas.

While the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an apex government body on education, has tried to make most of its books for junior classes quite interesting and interactive - written in simple language with illustrations - that is unfortunately not so for Classes 11 and 12.

“The NCERT books are dry and boring, none of us ever read them to understand the subject, we instead read reference books that explain the matter very well,” Subhajit Sen, a Class 12 student in a Delhi school, told IANS.

“NCERT should be dubbed as the National Council for Eradication of Research and Thinking instead, their books are so terrible!” said his friend Nishita jokingly.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which conducts the Class 12 examination, bases most of its questions on NCERT textbooks, which are compiled by an expert panel of educationists. The NCERT has the mandate to produce books for the CBSE, and both the departments come under the human resource development ministry.

Another factor that goes to make the NCERT senior class textbooks so “dense” is that the subject matter is a quantum jump over what the students studied in Class 10. It takes students, especially those who have chosen science, quite a few months to get used to the massive head load. Most students are forced to take the help of tutors or coaching classes to understand the books.

“I studied on my own till Class 10, and never felt the need for a tutor as the books were good. But all my troubles started in Class 11. The level of science books is too high. I tried self-study and found myself struggling for hours, and then months to understand the NCERT textbooks on my own,” Venkatesh, a Class 12 student, told IANS.

A bright student, Venkatesh found his grades tumbling alarmingly and he barely managed to scrape through school examinations. He finally took the help of some tutors in Class 12 and sought refuge in reference books to understand the subject.

“The NCERT experts panel that designs the text books is usually headed by some IIT bigwig. They think at their own level - and not the intermediate level - which is why the books are so dense. They don’t keep the level of understanding of students in mind while formulating the books,” said B.L. Dash, a physics tutor who teaches many senior students.

The story is the same for most students who have taken commerce and economics. “We never look at the NCERT economics book, it is non-existent for us. We only study from reference books,” said Arvind Arya, a commerce student.

However, arts students are not entirely displeased with their NCERT books. “They are not bad,” said Kavita.

Apart from being incomprehensible, some NCERT books even have glaring factual errors. Take for example the biology book for Class 12. It states in its first chapter that the average lifespan of parrots is 140 years, which is incorrect. While the big parrot species like macaws can live for up to 80 years, the smaller ones like parakeets and budgerigars live till 20 years.

The parrots’ lifespan has even been included by a well-known coaching centre as part of its question bank for its MBBS exam studies.

The biology book also erroneously states that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was the biggest of dinosaurs. “The Tyrannosaurus was certainly not the biggest dinosaur. There were many dinosaurs, especially the herbivorous ones, which were much bigger in size,” said Srikant Ghosh, a Class 12 student who has a keen interest in zoology and can trip off names and facts about dinosaurs.

“Most science NCERT books are carelessly written,” said the chemistry teacher of a well-known public school who did not wish to be identified.

“The NCERT books are full of facts, which the students find tough,” S. Radhakrishnan, who teaches biology to Classes 11 and 12 at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, told IANS.

Madhumita Dhingra, the mother of a teenager, said: It’s time now for the human resource development ministry to revamp their NCERT books for senior classes, make them more student-friendly.”

Efforts to reach NCERT officials for their comments proved futile as they were unreachable on the phone. This year, 699,129 Class 12 students are taking the board examinations that started March 3.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in.)

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