Blog: Free Textbooks
Why shouldn't government decide to relieve parents of the heavy financial burden of spending thousands of rupees on textbooks which differ from school to school, and which give way to the production of poorly conceived books by Mauritian authors? Some of these authors hide behind American/British pennames in order to lure readers.
All children in Mauritius will have access to the same textbooks and will share a common heritage of knowledge and information.
These books must be selected by panels comprising specialist teachers of both private and public sectors. The Ministry must define the criteria of excellence. The textbook should be based on the National Curriculum Framework. The textbook should develop critical thinking. This document is a blueprint of the knowledge, skills and attitude required for a child's education according to age groups. There are imperatives that have to be included according to the subject. Language development would include oral and writing skills. The use of the computer as a teaching tool should impose on the textbook developer certain related activities.
The criteria must be obeyed with rigour and extreme discipline because too many books that do not stand the test of acceptance are being used in schools as a result of an illicit partnership between school representatives and the marketers.
A few excellent books have been written by Mauritians and they constitute the pride of our genius in textbook writing. Most of the other books are thriving not owing to their merit as textbooks, but due to the incestuous relationship between writer and heads of department. Some managers prescribe books written by their relatives in order to run a lucrative business parallel to that of providing educational services to our children.
How much money will government spend if it adopts a policy of free textbooks? Even if we were to take the whole cohort taking CPE, at the rate of Rs 3,500 per student, government would have to secure a budget of Rs 150 million for students of Form 1. These books may even be given to students on loan as they were to scholarship winners in the sixties. Any one spoiling a textbook would have to pay a fine equal to the price of the book before receiving a clean chit for promotion. Student who do not return loaned books in good condition do not receive their certificates. The State would have to spend half a billion rupees to ensure that every student from Form 1 to Form VI has textbooks.
The State is already providing textbooks to 11,000 children through the National Empowerment Fund. The children of those who receive social aid are being given textbooks under the needy students' scheme.
A more realistic computation might yield more favourable results in favour of the State.
Once the texts have been distributed every year a rotation exercise will take place so that the State ensures that every child goes to school with his textbooks without spending money again.
It is a chaotic exercise when every school prescribes texts of its choice. Too many commercial interests transcending academic excellence prevail.
The same textbooks will provide all students with the opportunities to master commonly known approaches to problems and to be capable of sharing common information and knowledge.
In today's context, a certain category of schools thinks their pupils need more challenging textbooks than others. Why shouldn't all be exposed to the same challenging texts, and allow teachers to adapt their teaching skills to the learning ability of their students?
The provision of books may cater for diversity once the selection of papers is done at an appropriate time. No doubt for certain subjects texts will change every three years.
Literature in English is one classic example. This cannot be a hurdle for the policy of free book distribution if prior selection exercises are done in time and the books are purchased accordingly.
Free book distribution is the last link in the chain of free education. Free tuitions, free bus fare, free textbooks, they constitute a continuous chain that complete the policy of free education.