The KOOLSKOOL store has gone live on a limited release, just in time for Diwali. The KOOLSKOOL team wishes its future customers, prospective partners and associating schools a very happy Diwali!
...and welcome to the future of school supply retailing in India.
Technology is appearing in our lives and in schools in a big way. Many of us, who remain glued to computers for a large part of the day are slowly finding it difficult to wield a pen. The prolific use of calculators makes the memorization of tables, and ability to do calculations in the head somewhat redundant. A printed book might still be delightful to hold in your hands, but the movement towards electronic gadgets and media is undeniable.
A school that we visited in Dwarka (in Delhi) showed interest in going paperless in school and bringing in systems which can integrate the Kindle into the lives of their students. It is a different matter that they admitted that they don't really care for convenience of the students or related cost factor either.
My four year old spends time with her coloring books, and other story books but is definitely more comfortable playing games on her mother's cell phone. Her interest level (or span of attention) is non-electronic matter is somewhat limited. And she is clearly not an exception. It seems usually that the children adapt to technology much faster than their parents, but also get a little less active physically.
Here is the other potential problem. Intensive use of technology, from posting homework online, class notes getting emailed and students starting to lose the "old-world" skills will find themselves somewhat stymied by challenges that the board exams pose. The board exams are not yet online (and won't be for a long time).
Technology is here to stay and grow, but can we retain some of our innate skills?
NCERT most likely is the largest provider of text books in the country. All CBSE government schools use their books, and all private /unaided schools use their books. Each year, at the beginning of the academic session, there is a perpetual shortage of NCERT books. Each distributor that we have met so far has been moaning about the pain they have to go through to procure NCERT books. Every school we talked to this time including Vasant Valley, and Genesis Global has shown concern mentioning that their time tested distributors and publishers are unable to get NCERT books on time. And this is in Delhi. In Bangalore, its the usual every year story too.The situation as we understand, is the same in West Bengal, Orissa or any other state in the country.
The shortage gets reported in the newspapers every year (2004 report, 2007 report)without fail and 2010 was no exception. Distributors complained that they receive the books in installments and the first installment never more than 10-15% of their total requirement. The books are cheap (thankfully), but late. For distributors who cater to Indian schools outside the country (middle east, Africa for example), they need to airfreight the books thus adding to their operation cost, on top of low margins. Even with the multiple installments, the distributors do not manage to get more than about 80-85% of their total requirement. This obviously impacts the syllabus completion in schools adversely.
There must be hundreds of distributors who pick the books from NCERT. Given that, and there is a perpetual shortfall of 20-15%, it surely can't possibly be that difficult for NCERT to print more and early. If the government is unable to provide books, how will the forcible admission of extra students through RTE work well? Just that this gives rise to a different industry. Distributors mention that fake (or photocopied) versions of the books invade the market every year to make up the shortfall.
CBSE recently passed a circular to its affiliated schools informing them about UNESCO and Times Foundation's joint initiative "Donate a Book" (Read More). This initiative is meant to strengthen school libraries by receiving voluntary donations from students, teachers and parents.
Though the initiative is appreciated, and the goals noble, I believe its a step in a relatively lower priority direction. With Right to Education Act (RTE Act) related direction setting happening, and initiatives being chalked out, the Donate a Book initiative should have targeted a higher priority problem which will result from the admission of economically under-privileged children (belonging to a weaker section or a disadvantaged group) into the private schooling system. The Act asks the school to provide the learning material. Guess, how will this get funded in real life? Other children (who are not under-privileged) will bear the subsidy brunt.
How about getting older text books (and related material) from the non-under-privileged children donated to a pool and then distributed to the children who benefit from RTE? Sure, these children will not end up with new books thus somewhat violating the RTE principle of discrimination (perhaps), but surely better being resented! So, instead of filling libraries, it really might be a better idea for children (who can afford to do so) donate to their juniors instead.
This might be something that KOOLSKOOL will help facilitate in the future at least at the schools that it operates in.