Dr. K. Elango, Loyola College, Chennai
Textbooks neither motivate the advanced learner nor help the slow learner understand. And the repetitive exercises kill creativity.
Fighting the system...
Textbooks, conventionally regarded as the fulcrum of teacher-learner interface, the hub of all academic transactions, and eventually the touchstone of learners' competence level, are now beginning to totter from their grand stature. Phrases currently deployed by the experts to refer to them as pretexts, co-texts and con-texts amply demonstrate the shifting perceptions although yet to percolate to the academia. Multiple factors have been instrumental in the gradual shrinking of the status of textbooks.
More than the external factors certain inherent limitations of textbooks themselves accelerated their diminishing value. First, the teaching-learning activities are delimited by none other than the prescribed texts teachers from the start set out to fulfil their sole objective of "covering" the book lest they be accused of not completing the portions. Never letting themselves violate the sanctity of texts by zigzag or back and forth movement they press on unwaveringly with the linear approach. And, hardly do they bring in any related materials from other sources citing paucity of time, lack of resources and indifference of learners as deterring factors.
Learners, on their part, regard textbooks as matter to be memorised, if possible, from cover to cover hoping to tackle questions posed from any part. Their ultimate goal of education being scoring the maximum, if possible the centum, and anything that impedes their ambition attracts their hostility. Bulky and challenging books draw condemnation from parental organisations as well, leave alone learners' objection.
Although learners' demography indicates three broad categories the advanced, average and slow textbooks are produced primarily to cater to the abstract category of average learners, thereby victimising the other two. The advanced learners, finding the entire teaching-learning process unchallenging and demotivating end up maiming their cognitive potential. On the contrary the slow learners, experiencing difficulties, slow down the whole process which forces even the average learners to get stuck with the academic humdrum. Textbooks thus ultimately cater to one of these categories' needs and demands to expand their experiential frontiers.
Further, the exercises textbooks carry are obnoxiously repetitive. Even internationally reputed writers employ a framework for a textbook, which is repeated, lesson after lesson. However creative and challenging they may be, after a couple of lessons, tasks become predictable and turnout to be bland and monotonous. Yet another dampening factor is the all pervasive presence of the mono authorial viewpoint which hardly promotes counter viewpoints or multiple perceptions. Always an air of finality enshrines the author's standpoint as if his view alone is just and appropriate.
Recycling of materials book after book on the grounds of inclusion of representative writers and their works further adds to their dwindling importance. Material written in the span of 50 years, prior to the publication of any textbook, hardly finds place in them on account of copyright problems. Any daring attempt to incorporate them severely affects the economy of publishing, virtually making it unaffordable for the end users. Consequently, with no exception, all textbooks get their learners to wallow in the past, constraining them to be futuristic and progressive. What is worse, besides the lack of contemporaneity, is the Euro or American centric dimension, which denies the local flavour and relevance leading to alienation.
Publishers, sensing the shortcomings of printed texts, are supplementing them with audio and videotapes, although a tiny step, if put to proper use, this would make teaching-learning enlivened and meaningful. However the need of the hour is, more of a radical shift: realising the limitations of texts, they should be used as launching pad or runway just to take off to cruise in an unknown territory and to land again intact. As the digital media age enables the players to log on to cyberspace to link and to cross-link multimedia materials, along with the multitudinous resources of print and electronic media, textbooks should only be treated as source books. This would add tang to the classroom menu for the teaching-learning to become vibrant and relevant.
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