An Open Letter
The Editor In Chief
The Hindustan Times
We were attracted by the announcement made by the Hindustan Times that it intends to spend 5 Paisa earned from the sale of each copy on educating the children of India. It did not however tell us how it intends to spend this money. That is important since education of a child is not a sum of random acts. Schooling is a holistic experience composed of several components identified and selected through a Curricular Design which seeks to attain the education goals which a society sets for itself from time to time.
The issue of 19 April, 2012 of the Hindustan Times carried on its pages alphabet -sheets in English and Hindi with pictures. It asked its readers to cut all the sheets, staple them together to make a pictorial alphabet book and give it to a poor child to motivate her to read. This move seems to be driven by good intentions, however, it is clearly a misconceived , directionless and futile investment which does not help the poor child at all. There are social as well as educational reasons to say this. The Right to Education Act has made education a right, an entitlement for each and every child of India. It is not realized through some disparate acts of benevolence of some well meaning people. It is based on the principle of equity meaning thereby that the child is entitled to get education of equitable quality. It is to be done though a well defined institutionalized mechanism. What the HT does is to appeal to the conscience of its readers who , out of compassion for the poor children should find time to prepare a first language textbook for them by cutting and pasting these sheets. This is an act of pity which no self respecting individual would accept. The campaign designers must ask themselves this question: would they do this for their own children? If not, how is it right for a poor child? It would also be interesting for the managers of this campaign to do a survey to find out how many of its readers have actually indulged in this act of charity.
This campaign, apart from showing its insensitivity to the issue of equity and equality is also faulty in its design from the point of view of language pedagogy. In 2012 no language teacher ought to prescribe alphabet-books as the first learning tool. Language pedagogy has moved far ahead from the days when alphabets used to be the first step in language learning. Had the campaign designers taken care to read the National Curriculum Framework 2005 and the focus group papers on language teaching, they would have realized that now language teaching has become much more sophisticated. If the argument is that children deprived of the latest language teaching methods should at least be given this much, it again violates the constitutional principle of equality.
We have moved away from the ‘A for Apple’ nonsense after considerable effort, and it is disconcerting to see a major media agency reviving it without much thought.
Textbooks are only one part of it, significant and crucial though they are. Textbooks are held together by integrity of content and design, they are not merely a cut-paste- sew job. Designing of a first language book for a child in a multi-lingual context, requires a lot of responsible thinking which minds uneducated in the issues of language learning and unaware of the latest research in this field should not do. The first book in the hands of a child is a total experience. It should be able excite and stimulate all her/ his sensory perceptions. Moreover, the act of reading at the very first stages is now taken very seriously. It would do well to the designers of this campaign to have a look at the reading programs initiated by the NCERT and many states for the first and second grade children. Poor children deserve quality textbooks and reading material designed and produced well to last a full term, and printed on good quality paper and not on newsprint.
Seen even from the angle of social diversity, the Hindi pictorial alphabets sheets use images leave out a large population of children who have not been brought up in the tradition of upper caste male Hindu iconography .
The cavalier manner in which the whole campaign is designed again leads one to question the minds behind it: are they serious in their intention to support the educational system? If yes, they should give the money to the professional agencies involved in the business of schooling rather than squandering it on such tokenistic gestures which is also bad investment.
Apoorvanand, Professor, Delhi University, Member, Focus Group On Indian languages, National Curriculum Framework, 2005
Krishna Kumar, Professor, CIE, Delhi Unv, Former Director, NCERT
Kumar Rana, Pratichi, Kolkata
Shabnam Hashmi, Member, MAEF, NLMA
Vinod Raina, Member, NAC- RTE